Early Detection

Detect Your Child's Bite Problems Early

Bite Down Early -- A Parent's Guide to Detecting Early Bite Problems


What could be more beautiful to you as a parent than your child's smile? An early orthodontic screening assures that your child's smile will be healthy and look its best. Just as your child's first visit to the dentist should occur by age two, the best time for a first visit to the orthodontist is by age seven. It's as easy as saying "cheese!"

Are you curious about what the orthodontist may find? Bite Down Early is a program that allows you to evaluate your child's teeth and make a preliminary assessment of potential bite or alignment problems.

Early orthodontic treatment, if indicated, can help minimize the need for more extensive treatment at a later date, such as extraction of permanent teeth. Early treatment may also help your child's self-esteem - a fragile asset that's so important in growing up.

Seven warning signs in 7-year-olds:

An orthodontist answers the following questions when making a first evaluation. These answers are based on visual observation of the mouth and teeth. When you know what to look for, you can answer these questions, too.

1. Do the upper teeth protrude?

Excessive protrusion of the upper front teeth -- "buck teeth"-- is by far the most common orthodontic problem. You can test this by using the attached Bite Down Early ruler.

2. Is there a deep bite?

The upper front teeth cover the lower front teeth too much.

3. Is there an underbite?

The upper teeth fit inside the arch of the lower teeth.

4. Is there an open bite?

The child can stick his or her tongue between the upper and lower front teeth when the back teeth are together.

5. Is there too little or too much room for the teeth?

Crowded or overlapped teeth... ...or noticeably large gaps between teeth.

6. Do the front teeth line up?

The spaces between the two upper front teeth and the two lower front teeth should line up with each other and both should line up with the bridge of the nose. When they do not, the probable cause is drifted teeth or a shifted lower jaw, resulting in an improper bite.

7. Is there a crossbite?

The upper back teeth fit inside, rather than outside of the lowers.

Seek treatment earlier than age seven if your child has: 

  • difficulty chewing.
  • open-mouth breathing.
  • thumb or finger sucking.
  • overlapping or crowding of erupting permanent teeth.
  • jaws that click or pop.
  • biting of the cheek or into the roof of the mouth.
  • speech problems.
  • grinding or wearing down of teeth.
  • obvious abnormal bite development of any kind.

Bite Down Early Test

The Bite Down Early ruler attached to this pamphlet is especially designed to help you detect excessive protrusion of the upper front teeth, one of several early warning signs of bite problems in children. Detach the ruler at the perforation. Have your child bite down normally, keeping lips open. With printed side up, place measurement end of orthodontic ruler against the lower front teeth with the upper teeth touching on the ruler. If the bite is within the red zone, there is probably excessive protrusion and your child should be examined by an orthodontist.

Note: This Bite Down Early ruler is intended only as a preliminary indicator of some potential bite problems in seven-year-old children. It is not a substitute for consultation with an orthodontist. Use only under adult supervision.

What is an Orthodontist?

An orthodontist is a specialist in correcting bite and jaw problems in children and adults. In addition to dental school, an orthodontist must have also completed two years or more of full time orthodontic training and specialty certification at a graduate school approved by the American Dental Association.

What will happen at the first visit?

At your initial exam, the orthodontist will examine the mouth for problems -- including those conditions previously described -- and give you a full explanation of the situation.

While this first exam often does not result in immediate treatment, it allows the orthodontist to determine how and when a child's particular problem should be treated for maximum improvement with the least time and expense.

Modern-day Orthodontics

Braces used to be called "tin-grins," "railroad tracks," or worse, by the adolescent patients who required them for three to five years. A routine visit to the orthodontist is a visit to a warm and secure environment. An added plus: today's children don't usually need to be coaxed into treatment. They are curious and usually welcome braces. They – and their peers – know the eventual positive outcomes and they're proud of the tangible sign of love and concern you've shown in giving them the opportunity to join this special club.

How can I locate an orthodontist?

For a referral to an orthodontist, ask your family dentist, or check the American Association of Orthodontists website referral at www.aaortho.org/referral.cfm.

Produced by: California Association of Orthodontists


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