When to see an Orthodontist – from an Orthodontist’s Perspective
Pop quiz time – do you know the difference between a dentist and an orthodontist? Here’s the 5-second answer: an orthodontist is a dentist that did an additional 2-3 years of school to specialize within the dentistry field. Dentists have a pretty broad definition – they’re tasked with the overall health of your teeth, including your gums, nerves, and jaw. An orthodontist is focused on the shape and location of your upper and lower jaw and how your bite comes together, but more popularly, they’re known for straightening your teeth.
Even though orthodontist are specialists, they still care about your overall tooth health and want to ensure that your bite and jaws are properly positioned to protect your jaws and teeth. You can have the healthiest teeth in the world, but if they’re not aligned correctly, that may not last. Orthodontists are the people who make sure your teeth are wearing evenly, that your bite is aligned and your palate and jaw are interacting with your teeth in a healthy way. We’re the ones who make sure that the teeth you and your dentist work so hard to keep healthy actually function properly for you. Because most of us use our teeth every day, I think that’s a pretty important job!
A quick google search can tell you that most orthodontists recommend that your children see them for the first time around age 7, even if it’s just for an assessment. Although my preference is to wait until all adult teeth are in to start treatment, it is still very important for kids to be monitored by an orthodontist as they grow. Sometimes problems can be detected even before adult teeth come in, and early interventions can prevent serious consequences later. Therefore, I tell people that their dentists may recommend that their children see an orthodontist earlier than 7. Alternatively I tell parents they are their child advocate and if they feel like something doesn’t seem right they should then go ahead and schedule a consultation.
It is a common misconception that all orthodontists care about is the aesthetics of a smile and therefore wait to bring their kids in until most of their adult teeth are in. The problem with this is that there are a handful of situations where waiting until all the adult teeth are present limit our treatment options and could make the case more complicated. Early intervention, sometimes even before adult teeth are present, can make a treatment so much easier and almost always less complex. This translates to less treatment time and, of course, lower costs.
So the key here is really early intervention, not necessarily at age 7, but at the age that is recommended by your dentist. Here are a few things that I do every. single. day. to give you a few more reasons to consider early intervention:
I bring the positive!
I can’t stress this enough, but self-confidence is so easily lost in children. You’d truly be surprised at how many of our patients tell us just how much of a difference their orthodontia has made for their own self-image. That old cliche is true – a beautiful smile really can light up a room, and if you are self-conscious about your teeth, you won’t smile as much. I LOVE that my job is fixing smiles. This is hands-down my favorite part of being an orthodontist.
I help screen for breathing issues that could include sleep apnea.
This probably sounds off-topic, but the tongue and position/ shape of the jaws relate to how children breathe and this can have effects on their sleep quality. While you can straighten your teeth at any age, jaw and palate imbalances are much, much easier to correct while you are still growing. For an initial assessment, we will ALWAYS ask about your child’s sleep habits because we can play a very important role helping children breathe and hopefully sleep better. If you suspect this might be a problem (your child snores, sleeps fitfully, gasps for air, has night terrors, wets the bed, or – big red flag time- is a mouth breather), an orthodontist may be able to help.
I make sure extra or missing teeth have minimal impact in overall dental health.
Missing or extra teeth are surprisingly common, and they almost always require a game plan. Ultimately, you want your teeth to work together, no matter how many you have. It’s the orthodontists that put that plan together, and the earlier we know about these anomalies, the better that plan will be.
I guide tooth eruption BEFORE their location becomes a problem
When we assess children for the first time, we take x-rays and can see where the teeth are below the gum line. If we detect a problem, intervening early can help (and this often includes no appliances at all!) make more space for future eruption and lead to less complications and more options for when all their adult teeth are in. This also means less time in actual treatment later.
I help parents help their kids break bad habits.
Does your kid have a thumb or pacifier addiction they just can’t seem to kick? Definitely tell an orthodontist. We know how harmful those habits can be for proper oral health and we have lots of tips for helping to break them.
Your dentist will help you determine when your child should see an orthodontist, and sometimes this recommendation does come before all baby teeth are lost. The best advice I have for you is to listen to your dentist or your gut and intervene early if it’s recommended. Don’t be afraid that we’ll put braces on them – our goal is to monitor their growth and put together the best plan. We want your child to smile as often as possible, and we love being a part of making that smile beautiful.
This post was sponsored by Weiss & Tor Orthodontics
Meet the Author - Dr. Shira Tor
Board Certified Orthodontist
Meet Dr. Shira Tor, board certified Orthodontist and partner at Weiss & Tor Orthodontics. Dr. Tor knows that part of being exceptional includes continuing education. She works hard to stay informed of the latest research, technology, and trends through completing additional national and local courses. She continually expands her knowledge to provide top-notch care for her patients. Dr. Tor is on a mission to fully understand all treatments she uses and keeps up with all the latest research to apply the latest evidenced-based research to her practice.
She’s a true Cleveland East Sider, too. She grew up in Beachwood, and after a (long) stint through college, dental school, residency, post-doctoral research, and certification, she moved back to our lovely side of the city and now lives in Shaker with her husband, Jeremy, and their three daughters. Outside of work, Dr. Tor spends as much time as possible with her family and friends. She’s an avid foodie who loves trying new restaurants, looking up new recipes, and planning her next meals. Sharing that love of food with family and friends makes Dr. Tor very happy. Dr. Tor also enjoys volunteering and giving back to her local community.
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