DEAR MAYO CLINIC: What age is best for my 9-year-old daughter to be seen by an orthodontist? Some of her friends already have braces, but this seems very early to me, since she’s only lost a few teeth.
ANSWER: Although many people associate braces with the teenage years, 9 years old is not too young to have a child’s teeth evaluated by an orthodontist. In fact, the American Association of Orthodontics recommends that all children have an initial examination with an orthodontist by the time they are 7. That exam is necessary because it provides a baseline assessment of a child’s teeth and jaws and can help catch problems in their early stages.
The purpose of orthodontics is to prevent, diagnose and treat dental and facial irregularities. The technical term for these problems is “malocclusion,” which means “bad bite.” By age 7, most children have had several permanent teeth come into both the upper and lower jaws. Once those permanent teeth start coming in, an orthodontist can evaluate a child’s developing bite to see if there are any areas of concern.
A variety of conditions can affect children’s teeth and jaws at this age. In an initial evaluation, an orthodontist looks for teeth erupting out of their normal position, as well as missing teeth or extra teeth. Early loss of baby teeth or delayed eruption of permanent teeth may be identified at this time, too.