Identifying the need for and beginning orthodontic treatment while children are young and still growing may help them avoid serious health issues and potentially complicated, costly treatment when they are older. Learn which signs indicate that a child might need early treatment, the health benefits it can provide, and how we accomplish it at Winchester Dental.

What is early treatment?

Early treatment is orthodontics for young children with malocclusions, such as overbites or cross-bites; and poor myofunctional habits such as thumb sucking, mouth breathing, or incorrect swallows. Early treatment options include functional orthodontics (which children can start as early as age 4 or 5), a broad treatment plan that might include a prescription for patients to wear a specific appliance, such as an ALF appliance or a Myobrace, within a certain phase of the treatment.

How does functional orthodontics help accomplish this early treatment?

Functional orthodontics focuses on proper facial development and appropriate airways. While traditional orthodontics consists of putting braces on teeth to straighten them, functional orthodontics helps the jaws and teeth to function optimally. For example, let’s consider the bite function. The lower jaw should ideally position properly under the upper jaw, but patients present with various positioning issues. One goal of functional orthodontics is to position the jaws for the best functional motion possible.

For children who might need early treatment, what questions would their parents want to ask?

Parents would want to ask about treatment timeframes, and which treatment methods would be used, because there are more than one. We start children early because while they are growing, we can direct the growth of their mouths as needed so that we head off potential future issues, such as the sleep breathing problems that many adults with restricted airway volume experience.

What are some of the warning signs that a child might require early treatment?

Warning signs that a child might benefit from some form of early treatment include asthma, chronic congestion, cross-bite, underbite, an overbite from thumb sucking, regularly recurring ear infections, enlarged tonsils or adenoids, forward head posture, and obvious speech issues. Other signs include crowded teeth, mouth breathing, sinus problems, sleeping problems, snoring, and even bed wetting, which indicates a sleep disorder.

There are also behavioral problems such as ADD, ADHD, and anxiety that at first glance have nothing to do with dentistry, but we address those issues seriously within our dental practice, because they may stem from a problem with an underdeveloped airway. With early treatment, we can help develop children’s cranial facial structures to help increase their airway volume. A larger airway allows more air to flow to the lungs and more oxygen to reach the brain, thus helping the brain to function as it should.

What additional benefits does early treatment provide?

Positioning the jaws for improved airways allows children to develop to their full genetic potential. For children with sleep disorders, early treatment helps them begin to breathe better by expanding their palates. How does this occur? Expanding the palate lowers the floor of the nose (which is the roof of the mouth), opening the nasal passages and allowing children to breathe better through their noses. We need to remember that our bodies are designed for us primarily to be nasal breathers. Breathing through our noses helps us filter and humidify the air that goes to the lungs. When we don’t breathe through our noses, we are exposed to more pathogens, which makes us more susceptible to sickness. Expanding the palate improves the body’s blood oxygenation, which is critical for development of the brain and body.

Besides thumb-sucking, what other kinds of poor myofunctional habits might necessitate early treatment?

When we evaluate children, we look at the tongue and the lips because they affect the position of the teeth. If a child tends to thrust her tongue, her teeth may flare out. Children who suck on their fingers or thumb may have teeth that flare back. It is tremendously important to address habits such as these from a behavioral standpoint. When necessary, we make referrals to oral myofunctional therapists or use the Myobrace system for help in retraining children away from these habits. If we were to simply straighten the children’s teeth without helping them to adjust their myofunctional habits, their teeth could eventually shift out of alignment again. Taking this holistic approach with evaluating children is crucial.