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In the 30 plus years that I have practiced orthodontics, I have recognized that most parents are unsure about when to seek orthodontic treatment for their children. Some of the most frequently asked questions are: “When is the best time to take my child to an orthodontist?” “Do I need to wait for my dentist to refer me to an orthodontist?” and “How do I know what is the best treatment for my child?”

Dentistry today is very complex; not all general dentists are aware of the most current orthodontic treatment philosophies and wait for all the permanent teeth to be present before making an orthodontic referral. All children should have an orthodontic screening by an orthodontic specialist at the age of 7. Early screening not only promotes early detection of orthodontic problems, but also presents more opportunities to provide earlier, more effective treatment.

My practice philosophy focuses on early diagnosis of dental conditions to gain the maximum benefits of straight teeth and improved dental function. These benefits include reaching “winning” smiles in well balanced faces by working with the natural forces of growth and development. Certainly, orthodontics can be performed at any age; my youngest patient was 5 and my oldest 78! Adult patients often seek orthodontic treatment in Brecksville and Parma, Ohio, after observing the benefits orthodontic treatment brought to their children—healthy teeth and a beautiful smile that enhances self-esteem.

Most parents struggle deciding what the best treatment for their child is. My commitment is to educate the families of my practice by informing them of the choices available for their child: to treat just the teeth, treat the teeth within the face, or to treat teeth within the smile. Having teeth in balance with the patient’s physiology and muscle forces is key to long-term stability.

One might ask, “Why is age 7 an ideal time for screening by an orthodontist?” Let me explain what an orthodontist can detect at an early age and the benefits of early treatment:

– The “bite relationship” of the molars is established when the 6-year molars are present.
– The presence of the four permanent incisors (front teeth) indicates the potential for crowding, habit patterns (like thumb or finger sucking), deep bites, open bites, cross bites, protruding teeth, and “gummy” smiles.
– By the age of 7, jawbone growth patterns are established. From this, the orthodontist can determine the most conservative direction for treatment; this includes prevention, interception, and the alignment of key dental segments working within the context of growth and development.
– For some children, early screening will lead to immediate treatment and its benefits. For others whose treatment is months or years away, a screening will help parents and children develop a relationship with their orthodontic office and plan for future orthodontic treatment. Or, an early screening may suggest that treatment is not indicated, reassuring parents that the development pattern is normal.

Early treatment presents the opportunity to:

– Influence jaw growth in a positive manner
– Improve the width of the dental arches
– Reduce the need to extract permanent teeth
– Lower the risk of trauma to protruded front teeth
– Correct harmful oral habits
– Improve aesthetics and self-esteem
– Increase stability of final treatment results
– Reduce likelihood of impacted permanent teeth
– Improve speech development
– Guide permanent teeth into more favorable positions
– Improve lip competence
– Reduce potential for damage to the TMJ joints
– Encourage better compliance before the uncooperative teenage years

It certainly makes more sense to stop a problem early than to wait until it is fully expressed. The fastest-growing area of Sabat Orthodontics tends to be with adults who recognize the value of a healthy dentition and improved aesthetics and appearance. If you or your children would like a no cost orthodontic screening, please call for an appointment. Sooner is better than later.

Michael R. Sabat, D.D.S., M.S.