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When should my child have the first visit with an orthodontist?

The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that children have their first check-up with an orthodontist no later than age 7. By that age, a child will have a mix of baby and permanent teeth, and the orthodontist will be able to recognize orthodontic problems (“malocclusions”) even in their earliest stages.

If your child is younger than 7, and you notice something that appears “off,” it’s not necessary to wait until your child turns 7 or get a recommendation from your dentist to get a first check-up. If your child is 8 or older, it is not too late for a check-up with an orthodontist.

How do I schedule an appointment for an initial exam?

Use Find an Orthodontist to locate an AAO orthodontist near you. Through the service, you can call an AAO orthodontist’s office, or send an e-mail to schedule a check-up.

Should I wait for our dentist to refer my child to an orthodontist?

No. Parents may be the first to realize that something is “off” about their child’s teeth or jaws. If you have a concern, contact an AAO orthodontist to schedule a visit. Many AAO orthodontists offer such check-ups at no cost and with no obligation.

What if my dentist says they can do my child’s braces?

Consider seeking a second opinion with an AAO orthodontist, who is a specialist in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of orthodontic problems. While there is some instruction regarding orthodontics in dental school, it is minimal. It is in the post-dental school orthodontic residency program that orthodontists receive intense instruction to learn proper, safe tooth movement (orthodontics) and the guidance of dental, jaw and facial development (dentofacial orthopedics). These extra years of school make the orthodontist the specialist in moving teeth and aligning jaws. This is the only focus of their practice.

Should we wait to see the orthodontist until my child has all of his/her permanent teeth?

No. Waiting until all the permanent teeth have come in, or until facial growth is nearly complete, could make correction of some orthodontic problems more difficult. Some things cannot be accomplished once the face and jaws are no longer growing.

What if my child is older than 7 – is it too late for a check-up?

If your child is older than 7, it is not too late for a check-up. Should treatment be needed, keep in mind that many patients begin treatment between the ages of 9 and 16, depending on their physiological development and treatment needs. Orthodontists are usually able to treat most conditions successfully.

Why does the AAO say that kids should see an orthodontist for a check-up no later than age 7? Isn’t 7 too young to get braces?

Around age 7, children have a mix of baby (primary) and permanent teeth. A check-up as permanent teeth take the place of baby teeth, and as the face and jaws are growing, gives the orthodontist a wealth of information. If a problem exists, or if one is developing, your orthodontist is able to advise you on whether treatment is recommended, when it should begin, what form treatment will take, and estimate its length.

Remember, there is a difference between an orthodontic check-up and actually starting orthodontic treatment. Only a few orthodontic problems will need correction around age 7. Even so, not all treatment is done using braces.

In the event that a problem is detected, chances are your orthodontist will take a “wait-and-see” approach, and will check your child’s growth and development periodically. If treatment is needed, it can begin at the appropriate age for your child.

What’s the right age for orthodontic treatment?

There is not one “right” chronological age for orthodontic treatment. Ideally, children should have an orthodontic evaluation no later than the age of 7. But there is an ideal time to begin treatment for an individual who needs it. Timing is determined by the type of problem that the child has or may be developing, and the child’s stage of dental development. Some patients may require tooth movement only, while others may need help with guiding the growth of their jaws, or to correct a sucking habit or abnormal swallowing pattern that can reshape the bone. Rely on your AAO orthodontist to advise you on the ideal time for your child to be treated.

Won’t my child’s teeth straighten out as they grow?

Unfortunately, your child’s teeth will not straighten out as he or she grows. The space available for permanent front teeth will not increase as one grows. For most people, after the permanent (12 year) molars come in, there is even less space available for the front teeth which can lead to orthodontic problems such as protruding or crooked teeth.

Untreated orthodontic problems can become worse, and more difficult to treat as a child gets older. Untreated problems may lead to tooth decay, gum disease, broken front teeth and loss of bone tissue that holds teeth in place.

Where did my child’s orthodontic problems come from?

Most orthodontic problems are inherited. Some are “acquired,” developing over time by sucking the thumb or fingers, mouth breathing, dental disease, abnormal swallowing, poor dental hygiene, or early or late loss of baby teeth, accidents and poor nutrition. Whatever the cause, orthodontists are usually able to treat most conditions successfully.