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Orthodontics Starts in Infancy

Posted in Children, Phase 1 Treatment, Professional Education

While children should see us for an initial orthodontic assessment by age 7, did you know the habits that lead to good orthodontic health start in infancy? Our orthodontists in BC and Alberta explain how toothbrushing, thumbsucking and jaw development can influence how much orthodontic intervention will be needed later as a child grows.

What is early orthodontic intervention?

About 60% of facial development occurs by the age of 4. This increases to 90% by age 12, making the early years - ages 5 to 11 - critical. That's why the Canadian Association of Orthodontists recommends that children see an orthodontist for an initial assessment before age 7.

Early orthodontic intervention allows us to prevent problems from developing in the first place, and avoid the need for tooth extractions, orthodontic treatment and oral surgery later in life. We can also guide the development of your child's jaw and palate to have a specific, positive impact. That said, early development and guidance from dentists, family doctors and other health professionals can affect a child's trajectory when it comes to their orthodontic health.

How do early habits influence orthodontic health? 

While we often don't see children until the age of 7 when they come in for their initial assessment, we steadfastly believe that setting the foundation by practicing early at-home oral hygiene, partnering with dental health professionals for preventive care and guiding habits can have meaningful positive impacts for orthodontic health as a child develops. Here are 3 recommendations we make to parents:

Practice diligence with early tooth brushing and dental visits. 

Baby (deciduous) teeth play an important role in a child's facial development, along with the ability to speak, bite and chew. They also hold space for permanent teeth that follow. Because even baby teeth can decay, remember to remind parents about the importance of cleaning baby's gums with a soft, damp cloth after meals. They should continue this process as teeth continue to erupt.

Starting around their first birthday or when the first tooth has emerged (whichever is first), it's time for a baby to begin seeing a dentist regularly. We also recommend maintaining a good, healthy diet and avoiding acidic or sugary liquids including fruit juices and pop, especially before bedtime. 

Wean toddlers from thumbsucking and pacifier use.

Babies suck their thumbs to self-soothe as they explore their new world. Thumbsucking and pacifier use is common in tots, but after a child turns 3, it's time to start helping them break the habit as the pressure can impact jaw formation, causing an overbite or crossbite to develop. It may also interfere with the palate (roof of the mouth), which can negatively impact swallowing, chewing and speaking.

The effects don'ts stop there. Thumbsucking can eventually cause incoming baby teeth to move, especially the front ones. In habitual thumbsuckers who were not weaned, the top front teeth stick out, while bottom teeth tip inward towards the tongue. It can cause an open bite and space to form between the teeth. 

Allow babies to practice eating solid foods as early as 6 months.

Chewing is one of the most important factors that influence facial development as a baby grows. What we chew and how much we chew helps determine jaw growth and shape. That's why eating the right food at the right time is so important, and parents should not keep a baby on soft food for longer than necessary, as they'll need to start strengthening jaw muscles and encouraging bone growth with foods that are more challenging to chew. Depending on a baby's health and individual circumstances, they may be able to start experimenting with solid foods around six months old.

As parents are more likely to see their dentists and family doctors from a child's infancy up to and including their elementary school years, your guidance and partnership with these patients plays an integral role in a child's early development. By taking time to discuss these issues with parents, you may be helping them "future proof" their child against orthodontic health issues, or problems developing into issues that can severely impact their dental health as they mature.

Do you see patients younger than age 7?

Good orthodontic health starts in infancy and some young patients may benefit from adding an orthodontist to their dental healthcare team. If circumstances warrant, we can see patients younger than age 7 to discuss how to correct problematic habits such as mouth breathing or thumbsucking, or take preventive measures to guide development if orthodontic issues present themselves early. If you have concerns about a patient or have noticed habits that may need correction, please feel free to refer them to us for a consultation and assessment. 

Do you have a young patient you'd like to refer for early orthodontic evaluation? We welcome referrals from dentists and general practitioners. Send us a referral today by phone or email.

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