Help my child is 8! Is it too early for their first visit to the orthodontist?

Recently I overheard one mum say to a friend I’ve booked Tayla* in for her first visit to an orthodontist.

Now just to be clear, I wasn’t eavesdropping, but my ears did prick up, especially when her friend responded with, Isn’t that a little early? I mean she’s only eight!

It’s a question I’m asked by a lot of people, whether I’m at work, in the playground with my kids, or socialising with friends. And it’s one of the reasons I wrote my book, So Smile: A guide to straightening out the confusion, concern and catastrophes around orthodontic treatment.

What’s the ideal age for a child’s first visit to an orthodontist?

Understandably, people feel confused. It’s not commonly known – unless you’re already seeing an orthodontist – that the ideal age for a child’s first visit to an orthodontist is eight years of age.

Why is that?

Let’s clear up this confusion once and for all with some clear facts about this big question. If nothing else, it can make the orthodontic treatment journey more manageable.

Why is eight the magic age for a first visit to the orthodontist?

Critics may argue making your child’s first visit to the orthodontist at the age of eight is a marketing ploy by orthodontists everywhere to line up their next lot of patients.

Short-sighted and cynical, it’s a view which overlooks the enormous value of this critical first visit to an orthodontist. Straight teeth and a beautiful smile are just a couple of the benefits from effective orthodontic treatment. A child’s improved confidence and self-esteem can also be included among the valuable returns.

Between six and thirteen, children go through many changes. During this period of growth, obvious physical changes occur as children grow taller and mature. However, what’s often overlooked and underestimated is the significance of changes which occur in the mouth.

I know this because when parents bring their child in for their growth and development monitoring checks, they’ve often forgotten what’s occurred with their child’s teeth in the preceding six or twelve months. They also confuse one child with another (easy to do when we have so much going on). What this tells me is that we know our kids teeth fall out and are replaced by adult teeth, but most people aren’t aware there’s a certain sequence teeth should follow for teeth to grow well and in alignment.

What does the first visit to an orthodontist have to do with the eruption of my child’s teeth?

Generally, people have two sets of teeth during their life: a set of baby or primary teeth and a set of adult or permanent teeth. The 20 primary teeth most people have will be replaced by 32 permanent teeth, 16 in each jaw.

Check out the table below which is a general guide to the sequence of tooth eruption. These ages are a guide only, and it’s important to be aware that tooth eruption is influenced by many factors, including heredity.

AgeTooth development
6 – 7 monthsFirst baby teeth
By 30 – 36 monthsShould have all 20 baby teeth
6 – 7 yearsFirst permanent molars erupt
+ 6 – 13Development of all adult teeth
17 – 25 yearsWisdom teeth

Notice that between 6 and 13, a child’s adult teeth come through. So what does this have to do with a child’s first visit to an orthodontist?

The main reason for seeing an orthodontist early is peace of mind. When you take the time to visit the orthodontist early (it’s called early interceptive treatment for a reason), you get the information needed at the right time to help plan and manage your child’s orthodontic treatment for the long term.

Your first visit to an orthodontist: a one-way ticket to peace of mind

By visiting the orthodontist when your child is eight, rather than fifteen, you have time to prepare and create the ideal treatment plan (journey). Rather than being overwhelmed by what’s involved, you are informed in a way that means you’re not wasting valuable time and energy worrying about what you should do or what should happen. Or worse still, having no idea that treatment is necessary, a situation which occurs all too frequently.

Wouldn’t it be good know this could all be resolved with a single visit to an orthodontist at the right age?

For parents and carers, taking your child to an orthodontist early helps to stop the monkey chatter about what to do, when to do it, who to see, what it will cost, and whether you’re doing the right thing. It can cut through all the ‘monkey chatter’ too. A single comprehensive consultation with an experienced and knowledgeable orthodontist can inform and empower a parent with what they need to make sound decisions about orthodontic treatment.

For the child, it helps to pre-frame the need for orthodontic treatment if that’s necessary. By the time treatment starts, even if they’re not excited, at least they know what to expect. In most cases, when treatment commences for kids who have been seeing me since they were eight, they are so ready for orthodontic treatment, they can’t wait for things to kick off. They are ready mentally, emotionally and physically. By contrast, when I only see a patient for the first time at age 12 or 13 and treatment needs to start as soon as possible, they are almost always more apprehensive. This is another common experience I witness in my practice every day, which can be avoided with an early orthodontic assessments.

What happens at your child’s first visit to an orthodontist?

At your child’s first visit to an orthodontist, their bite and skeletal structure will be assessed. By doing this, the orthodontist can determine the best measures for capitalising on the available growth and development of a child’s jaws and teeth during the peak growth period between 6 and 13 years.

As a result of this first visit, your orthodontist can advise whether treatment should start sooner rather than later. If no orthodontic treatment is required at the time of the first visit to an orthodontist, I recommend growth and monitoring visits every six to 12 months. This allows the orthodontist to track the development of your child’s growth and whether any change in approach is required.

Even if no treatment is prescribed by the orthodontist, these regular checks are important. Taking advantage of this service is well worth a little time for the peace of mind it provides.

But my child still has baby teeth! Do I need to visit an orthodontist?

A common myth is that children should only see an orthodontist when they’ve lost all their baby teeth.

Actually, this is a mistake! By seeing an orthodontist before all the baby teeth are lost, many problems can be prevented.

If a child is seen at a later age, say at 12 or 15, some treatment options that were available at the age of eight – and would have resulted in easier treatment and better outcomes (and usually less cost) – are no longer available because the growth potential is not there, or teeth have become impacted.

And if that’s not deterrent enough, orthodontic treatment initiated at a later age is almost always more complex and expensive.

Apart from the physical developments an orthodontist would address through early treatment identified at a child’s first visit, there are also other considerations that arise as a child becomes a teenager. The impact of treatment on sport and a teenager’s social life are very real concerns for young adults, and these are often completely avoidable if treatment is devised and implemented early.

Have you booked your child’s first visit to an orthodontist? If you haven’t, maybe you should now. In the meantime, check out my book, So Smile: A guide to straightening out the confusion, concern and catastrophes around orthodontic treatment. In it I provide parents and carers with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions about orthodontic treatment.

* Not her real name.

Dr Sarah Dan is a specialist orthodontist and advocate for children making their first visit to an orthodontist at the age of eight. She is passionate about early interceptive treatment and parents equipping themselves with the information they need to make wise decisions about orthodontic treatment for their children. If peace of mind about your investments is important to you, order your copy of So Smile: A guide to straightening out the confusion, concern and catastrophes around orthodontic treatment. Learn from Australia’s leading authority on early interceptive orthodontic treatment. Dr Sarah Dan is available for consultations at Menai Orthodontics, Sydney and can be contacted through her website, where copies of her orthodontic treatment book, SO Smile can be purchased.