Keeping Kids’ Smiles Healthy with Early Orthodontic Treatment

While most of us associate braces with adolescence, children as young as 6 can sometimes benefit from early orthodontic treatment. Getting your kids the treatment they need can help reduce the amount and extent of additional treatment that’s required when they’re older, but early orthodontic treatment isn’t for everyone.

To find out whether your child needs early orthodontic treatment, it’s a good idea to schedule a dental checkup. Check out this link to help prepare your child for their first visit and get them started on the road to a lifetime of healthy smiles: How to Prepare Your Child for a Dental Visit >>

To find out which types of childhood dental problems can be treated using orthodontics, we recently spoke with Dr. Kevin Chan of PureSmile.

How early can my child start orthodontic treatment?

Orthodontic treatment in young children is known as interceptive orthodontics, and it can begin as early as age 6 or 7. 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.

It is important to note that early treatment, also called Phase I treatment, does not apply to all orthodontic problems; however, it may help in certain cases, especially when skeletal adjustments are necessary. Two conditions that usually require early intervention are crossbites – when the upper and lower jaw, and therefore the dental arches, don’t align correctly – and protruding front teeth.

Why not wait until all adult teeth are in?

Early intervention takes advantage of the fact that a child’s jaw is still growing. Early treatment is useful when the dental arches and jaws are not in the correct position, and the child would benefit from skeletal adjustments. Functional appliances may address these problems that would not be as easily treated later on when all adult teeth are in. More orthodontic treatment to align the teeth rather than the jaw usually is needed later on, but it may be shorter, more effective, and less involved.

How long does Phase I treatment take?

Although treatment plans are customized for each patient, most early orthodontic treatment takes from one to three years, depending on the orthodontic issues that need correcting. Although a little discomfort is expected during treatment, today’s braces and orthodontic appliances are more comfortable than ever before.

Biteplate for phase I treatment

What are some common appliances used in early treatment?

A palatal expander may be used to expand the child’s upper dental arch so there is more room for teeth to grow in, thus reducing crowding in the mouth. Once the arch is the proper size, there’s a better chance that the adult teeth will come in in a better position.

Holding arch

Space maintainers and holding arches are other examples of early intervention techniques. When a child loses a tooth prematurely, as a result of decay or injury, the other teeth can shift to fill the vacant space. As a preventative measure, a dentist can place a space maintainer or holding arch to hold the space until the permanent tooth comes in. When the permanent tooth begins to emerge, the orthodontist will remove the space maintainer. This procedure may eliminate the need for further or more intensive orthodontics in the future.

About Dr. Kevin Chan

Dr. Kevin Chan is a US Board Certified orthodontist at PureSmile, which has four convenient locations in Shanghai. For more information, see