By Dr. Cheng Lun Wang
Your child was probably standing or walking by age 1, speaking in sentences by age 3, and starting to read by age 5 or 6. If your child has reached the age of 7, now is the time to take him or her to the orthodontist for the first time. This month is an especially apt time to set up an appointment, because April is National Oral Health month in Canada.
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that children should first see an orthodontist at the age of 7. Why age 7? Because it’s the age when adult molars start “erupting,” or poking through the gums. Incisors, or canine teeth also start erupting at this age. These changes can give the orthodontist a picture of how your child’s bite will develop and can predict if there will be issues like crowding, open bites or jaw misalignments.
Your child may have also developed oral habits such as chewing on things or sucking on fingers – habits which can have an adverse affect on the development of his or her bite. The orthodontist can help your child correct these habits before they give rise to serious dental problems.
If you think taking your 7 year-old to the orthodontist is rushing things, it’s not. It’s just smart preventative medicine. The orthodontist will most likely not be recommending braces for the immediate future. But by giving an orthodontist the chance to foresee problems, he or she will have a good chance of preventing or shortening treatments that could otherwise get expensive and involved.
Keep in mind that the benefits of an attractive smile are both social and medical. On the one hand, people with nice teeth typically have more self-confidence, and they may have more options open to them in their personal and professional lives. In addition, the failure to correct an abnormal bite can result in many oral health problems, including tooth decay, tooth loss, gum disease, difficultly speaking and chewing, and damage to tooth enamel.
If you already take your child to the dentist for regularly check-ups, that’s a great first step for caring for their oral health. General dentists can do an excellent job of caring for someone’s overall oral health. Orthodontists, on the other hand, are specialists. They have spent an extra 2 or 3 years studying their specialty after completing dental school. In addition to more education, they also have more experience making sure teeth grow in properly and know how to straighten them when they don’t. That’s all an orthodontist does every day.
If it turns out your child does need braces one day, also remember that braces keep improving. They are more lightweight than when you were an adolescent with plenty of different treatment options. It will almost make you wish you could be 7 years old again.
Dr. Cheng Lun Wang, the practice leader at PacificWest Dental Group which has offices in Surrey and Vancouver, has been an orthodontist for twenty years. He provides a range of orthodontic treatments for children, teenagers, and adults, including Invisalign and behind-the-teeth (lingual) braces. More information about Dr. Wang can be found on his practice’s website, PacificWestDental.com.