Braces may have been a rite of passage in your teenage years, but these days orthodontic treatments have changed significantly. Dentists and orthodontists recommend that children come in for their first visit to have an orthodontic evaluation early on, and in many cases they can provide some preventive work that could reduce or eliminate the need for braces in the future. Not everyone will require braces either, so how do you know if you need them? Here are some guidelines.

Get An Evaluation

Perhaps the best way to determine whether or not you will need orthodontic interventions is simply to visit a professional who can tell you—an orthodontist. Today the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) recommends that parents take their child in for an evaluation no later than the age of 7. Treatments that used to wait until all your primary teeth were lost and replaced with permanent teeth can now be done much sooner. In many cases early intervention can change your orthodontic needs in the future, making the entire process easier, quicker, and perhaps even less expensive as well.

Crowding or Spacing

The term “malocclusion” is a general term used to describe various misalignment issues with the teeth and jaw, and perhaps one of the most common malocclusions is crowding. This occurs when there is not enough room in the jaw to fit all your permanent teeth, so your teeth will grow in crooked to accommodate. In more severe cases they may rotate, overlap, or even not be able to grow in and end up staying inside the gums (which can lead to infection, pain, and other problems). Ultimately crowding can make it harder to brush and floss teeth, which can lead to tooth decay.

Another common issue is improper spacing between the teeth, the most well known being diastima, or a space between the two front teeth. While most excess spacing won’t cause significant problems (fixing it is often a cosmetic decision), it can cause some problems with speaking and chewing in severe cases.

Bite Misalignment

The term “bite” refers to how your upper and lower jaw fit together. Ideally the teeth in your upper jaw will match with the teeth in your lower jaw when you bite down and they will touch, but for many people that is not the case. The most common problems with bites include:

  • Overbite – the first molar is too far back, causing your top jaw to appear to protrude farther out than the lower jaw
  • Underbite – the first molar is too far forward, causing your lower jaw to protrude too far forward
  • Crossbite – the top and bottom jaw do not line up when you bite down
  • Open bite – top and bottom teeth don’t touch when you bite

Prevent Oral Health Issues

While many people think about getting braces or other orthodontic treatment for cosmetic reasons (so they can have straight teeth), that is only one reason to consider it. Straight teeth can provide you with confidence to smile and show off your teeth, but misalignments in the jaw can cause other problems, including:

  • Tooth decay (if you are unable to properly clean teeth)
  • Gum disease
  • Jaw pain
  • TMJ
  • Speech impediments
  • Teeth clenching or grinding
  • Sleep apnea
  • Snoring
  • Breathing difficulties while you sleep

If you’re visiting your dentist regularly, he or she may recommend that you visit an orthodontist if they see some of these problems.