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Orthodontic Treatment Earlier May Reduce Treatment Later

Get Screening By Age Seven

By Tri-Cities Orthodontics Specialists -

OrthodonticLook at yearbook or prom pictures from the 1950s or ’60s and you’ll see many smiles framed with heavy metal braces. It’s a less-common sight in high schools today. Why the change? Children today tend to get braces at a much earlier age. Some patients with special problems begin orthodontic treatment at age seven or younger.

“The American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) recommends that all children receive an orthodontic screening by age seven,” says Dr. Leighton Wood at Tri-Cities Orthodontic Specialists.  Permanent teeth generally begin to come in at age six or seven, and it is at this point that orthodontic problems become apparent.  “Because bones are still growing, it’s an ideal time to evaluate a child,” Dr. Wood says. “Then we can determine what orthodontic treatment, if any, may be needed either now or in the future.”

Making Braces Fun
To make braces more acceptable and fun for young people, manufacturers have made brightly colored elastics. These are the tiny rubber bands that hold the wires to the braces. Children can choose elastics with their school colors or a holiday color scheme, such as orange and black for Halloween.

Choosing the color of the elastics allows patients “to feel that they are more involved in their treatment,” Dr. Wood  says.

Now More Comfortable
Braces today tend to be less uncomfortable and less visible than they used to be. But they still take some getting used to. Food can get caught around brackets and in wires, and flossing and brushing can take more time. After adjustments, sometimes the teeth may be a little sore. Tooth discomfort can be controlled by taking a pain reliever, such as ibuprofen, Tylenol, or aspirin, if necessary. The use of lighter and more flexible wires has greatly lessened the amount of soreness or discomfort during treatment.

As more and more children get braces, schoolyard nicknames such as “tin grin” and “metal mouth” are heard less often. Because treatment has become more socially acceptable, embarrassment may be less of a concern.

Interceptive Orthodontics
Orthodontic treatment in young children is known as interceptive orthodontics. Intervention may begin as early as age six or seven. At this age, teeth are still developing and the jaw is still growing. That means certain conditions, such as crowding, may be easier to address. Two other conditions that require early intervention are crossbites and protruding front teeth. A crossbite can cause the jaws to grow unevenly. Front teeth that stick out may be fractured or injured in an accident, such as a fall.

Before permanent teeth have come in, it may be possible to help teeth to erupt (emerge through the gums) into better positions. It’s common, for example, for the dental arch to be too small to fit all of the teeth. A few decades ago, the solution for crowding was almost always to extract some of the permanent teeth to make space. Fixed braces were then used to position the teeth properly.

Early intervention takes advantage of the fact that a child’s jaw is still growing. For example, a device called a palatal expander may be used to expand the child’s upper dental arch. Once the arch is the proper size, there’s a better chance that the adult teeth will emerge in better position. Sometimes teeth still may be crowded after all of them have erupted. In such cases, some permanent teeth may still have to be extracted to make room to align the teeth properly.

“It is important to note that children who receive interceptive orthodontics generally still need braces or other orthodontic appliances later,” Dr. Wood says. “However, this early treatment may shorten and simplify future treatment in selected cases.” This is commonly known as two-phase treatment.

Early treatment does not apply to all orthodontic problems. However, it may help in certain cases.

You can reach Tri-Cities Orthodontic Specialists for their Bristol, Kingsport, or Johnson City locations at 888-5-DRWOOD. You can also visit them on the web at www.tnbraces.com.

Leighton Wood, DDS, MS
Dr. Leighton Wood is an orthodontist with offices in Kingsport and Johnson City, TN and Bristol, VA. He received his Bachelor of Science degree from Middle Tennessee State University and his dental degree from the University of Tennessee. His orthodontic residency and Master of Science degree were completed at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He retired in the rank of full Colonel from the United States Air Force after 20 years service as an orthodontist and an orthodontic educator.

Dr. Wood is Board Certified by the American Board of Orthodontics and is a member of the College of Diplomats of the American Board of Orthodontics, the American Association of Orthodontists, and the American Dental Association.

Dr. Wood is one of the most experienced and leading providers in the Tri-Cities area of Invisalign® and Invisalign Teen™ clear aligners. He was recognized by Invisalign as a Premier Elite Provider, meaning he has treated over 600 Invisalign cases and starts about 130 new cases each year. He is the only Elite Provider and the largest Invisalign Teen provider in the area.

Dr. Wood was born and raised in middle Tennessee. He and his wife Stephanie have three sons, Joey, Josh, and Luke, and three daughters, Teagan, Cassidy, and Cameryn. He is very active in local youth, high school, and college sports. Dr. Wood is also very involved with Revolution Dance and Gymnastics Studio, co-owned by his wife. The Wood family members are also active in their church.

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