If your child's dentist has recently informed you that his or her mouth is not quite large enough to handle the permanent teeth and adult molars making their appearance, you may be wondering how to deal with this common but frustrating issue (technical term: malocclusion). Untreated malocclusion can have a variety of negative side effects—from bad breath or plaque buildup to more cosmetic concerns—but fortunately, advances in dental technology make treating this problem easier than ever. Read on to learn more about the best orthodontic treatment options for your child's crowded teeth.
What options are most effective in treating malocclusion?
There are several ways for an orthodontist to minimize the amount of crowding in your child's mouth and provide each tooth with the space it needs to develop properly and healthily.
Relatively minor cases of malocclusion can be treated by simply polishing your child's teeth to wear away a thin layer of the top enamel, providing a bit more room without compromising their appearance or function. This is generally a good option for malocclusion that has been detected at a young age and before many dental problems have developed; if your child is already dealing with plaque or tartar buildup between teeth because it's difficult to fit dental floss into these tiny crevices, a more intensive option like braces may be in order.
Metal or "invisible" plastic braces can be a great way to treat more severe malocclusion, as they hold the teeth in place and slowly guide them into a more functional location over a term of months or years. While many have grown to prefer invisible braces over the more visible metal variety due to their low profile, the success of this treatment will depend on how long these braces are left alone to do their work—so if your child is resistant to braces or if you suspect you'll face a daily battle to get him or her to wear the invisible braces, the metal variety may be a better choice. On the other hand, if your child is self-conscious about the idea of wearing braces, invisible braces may be preferred.
In other cases, it may be clear that your child's jaw will never grow large enough to accommodate all his or her teeth; in this situation, surgical extraction of one or more teeth can be the easiest and most inexpensive way to bring your child's mouth back into balance.
Should you leave your child's teeth alone until his or her jaw has reached adult size?
If your child is small for his or her age, you may worry that treating malocclusion too early could lead to undersized or odd-looking teeth in the future—after all, your child's jaw at 10 or 11 years old is likely to be much smaller than his or her jaw as an adult. While this may be a good argument in favor of delaying treatment for very mild cases of malocclusion for young children, in many cases, the potential harm that can come from letting these teeth develop at their own pace far outweighs the risk that treatment will go too far.
The primary test for whether a malocclusion needs to be treated sooner rather than later is your child's ability to adequately care for his or her teeth. For example, if teeth are crowded so close together that even the slimmest dental floss isn't able to weave into the space between them, treatment is likely necessary to prevent decay—and proactively shaving down the sides of your child's tooth under medical supervision may be a much better option than allowing the tooth to decay until a space is created on its own. By that same token, teeth that are crowded enough to turn inward, preventing a toothbrush from scrubbing much of the biting surface, can raise the risk of dental problems that will dwarf the cost of early orthodontic intervention.
For more information on your child's options, contact a dentist at an office such as Fayetteville Family Dentistry.