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Malocclusions are fairly common in children (as well as adults). While some malocclusions are so minor that no treatment would provide a demonstrable benefit, serious malocclusions may require intervention in the form of appliances such as braces.

For this reason, regular dental checkups are critical because they provide an opportunity for a dental professional to spot small problems before they become big ones. During a routine exam, your dentist may be able to determine if the child's jaws are growing properly and at the same rate.

If your child has any of the following symptoms, a more detailed orthodontic exam may be called for:

  • "Loose" jaws that can be easily shifted around or make popping noises when opening or closing
  • Abnormal bite relationship (teeth that don?t match up well when biting)
  • Baby teeth that are lost too early or too late
  • Biting the cheek or roof of the mouth
  • Breathing through the mouth excessively (instead of through the nose)
  • Disproportionate teeth or jaws
  • Problems with biting down or chewing food
  • Teeth that have become crowded, knocked out or in the wrong place
  • Thumb-sucking or finger-sucking

Benefits of early treatment in children

Here are just some of the benefits of catching problems early:

  • Avoiding impacted teeth
  • Avoiding more costly and lengthy orthodontic treatments in later life
  • Avoiding soft tissue and palate injuries from protruding teeth
  • Bad habits like thumb- or finger- sucking can be corrected
  • Correcting breathing, speaking, swallowing or eating problems
  • Creating space for newly erupting or future erupting teeth
  • Erupting teeth and jaws can be gently glided into their correct positions

About early extractions

Extracting a tooth (either primary of permanent) before its time can sometimes do more harm than good.

There are reasonable instances, and good cause, however, for extracting teeth early in a child.

Common justifications for an early tooth extraction include preserving space for other incoming teeth to avoid crowding and possible impacted teeth later on, or to clear an obstructed tooth that is preventing a jaw from forming correctly.

As your child grows

Orthodontists employ a wide variety of "growth modification" techniques to help nature correct problems as your child grows.

Orthodontic appliances can do wonders as your child develops. For example, an appliance may stave off problems with an upper or lower jaw that isn't growing at the same rate as the other, or correct problems that are creating difficulties with chewing or swallowing.

Whatever the cause, orthodontic treatment during your child's development will reap substantial dividends in adult life, including avoidance of possible surgery, improved oral health and improved self-esteem.

Typically, children between the ages of 10 (usually girls) and 12 (usually boys) benefit greatly from procedures designed to correct jaw length and width problems.

Keep in mind that orthodontic treatment involves a firm commitment from the child, as well as the parent. The kinds of changes such treatment is designed for sometimes take years to fully realize their benefit. Also bear in mind that even the most dedicated commitment is no guarantee of permanent results. Nature sometimes has a way of taking over, and in limited cases, relapses can occur later on.