The Benefits of Phase 1 Orthodontic Treatment
Orthodontic treatment is about more than just improving the look of a person’s smile – it’s also about improving the way the teeth and jaws function. When teeth are straight, they’re easier to clean, which means it’s less likely decay and gum disease will occur. Plus, straight teeth can help prevent other serious issues like uneven tooth wear and temporomandibular joint disorder, a chronic condition that causes jaw pain and headaches.
While most people think of orthodontic treatment beginning in the teen years or later, many of the issues contributing to misalignment and crookedness can be addressed at a much younger age with a carefully-developed plan of preventive and proactive care often referred to as Phase 1 orthodontics or interceptive orthodontics. In fact, the American Association of Orthodontists recommends children have an initial orthodontic evaluation by the time they’re seven years old to look for issues that could cause serious alignment problems as the child grows and their adult teeth emerge. During these earlier years of childhood, the jaw bones are still growing and forming, making it an ideal time for interventional treatment that could potentially reduce the duration (and cost) of traditional orthodontic treatment that does eventually take place.
What happens in Phase 1 orthodontic treatment?
Phase 1 treatments are designed to make room for the adult teeth when they emerge so some crowding and alignment issues can be prevented or lessened and extractions of permanent teeth may be avoided. Treatment begins with an in-depth evaluation of the child’s bite alignment and mechanics, including x-rays to determine the placement of the adult teeth that have not yet emerged from beneath the gums.
The specific type of treatment that’s recommended, if any, will depend on the outcome of that evaluation. Some potential options include:
- space maintainers to “hold open” spaces where baby teeth have fallen out, providing room for adult teeth to properly emerge
- palatal expanders (or arch expansion devices) designed to gently widen the palate as the jaw grows over time
- removable appliances or partial braces
Phase 1 treatment also helps children eliminate habits like nail-biting, tongue-thrusting or thumb-sucking that can also contribute to alignment problems and interfere with the normal growth and development of the jaws and the teeth. Most Phase 1 treatment plans take from nine to 18 months to complete.
What are the possible benefits of Phase 1 orthodontic treatment?
Phase 1 treatment offers many significant benefits for both kids and their parents, including:
- shorter duration of Phase 2 treatment (when braces, retainers and other orthodontic treatment options take place)
- improved bite mechanics and jaw alignment for better oral health throughout adulthood
- reduced need for extractions of permanent (adult) teeth
- improvement of the ratio of the upper and lower jaws for better facial symmetry and aesthetics
- reduced risk of trauma to front teeth that protrude
- reduced likelihood of impacted adult teeth
- reduced cost of Phase 2 care
Plus, by correcting some types of crowding issues and expanding the palate and jaw space, Phase 1 treatment may improve the long-term results of braces by reducing strain and stress on tooth roots caused by an undersized jaw.
Does having Phase 1 treatment mean my child will not need braces later on?
No. In fact, Phase 1 treatment is intended to better prepare the child braces once they get closer to the teen years; however, having interceptive treatment means eventual phase 2 treatment (including braces and retainers) can be performed more quickly and at a lower cost – benefits for both kids and parents.
How can I tell if my child needs early intervention?
Interceptive orthodontic treatment typically is reserved for children with moderate to severe alignment issues. The best way to know if your child could benefit from Phase 1 orthodontic treatment is to schedule an office visit and evaluation while your child is still young. Many interceptive treatments are performed up until about the age of 10, so even if your child is older than seven, it’s still important to schedule an evaluation to determine if Phase 1 treatment could be beneficial.
At Clark Orthodontics, we offer a comprehensive array of interventional treatments based on in-depth evaluations to help kids get the care they need early, helping them avoid lengthier and more complex treatments later on. To schedule your child’s evaluation, call us at 850-385-2822.