Looks can be deceiving, and such is the case sometimes with children’s teeth. They may appear straight and without the need for braces, but problems can be lurking that require orthodontic treatment after all.
One issue may be with the bite. Orthodontists say it may not be readily evident to the naked eye, but a parent can detect the problem when closely observing their child’s chewing habits with certain foods.
“So often we parents miss what’s right in front of us, and our children don’t bother to tell us because it’s just the way it’s always been,” says Dr. Kelly Giannetti (www.drsgiannettiandbooms.com), a Sacramento-based orthodontist and co-author with Dr. Thais Booms of Beyond Braces: A Consumer’s Guide To Orthodontics.
“When most people think about reasons for orthodontic treatment, they’re thinking about the problems you can easily see – protruding teeth or teeth that overlap each other, for instance. But every bit as important is the bite, and while problems with your bite aren’t always as noticeable, they do have consequences.”
Left uncorrected, an uneven bite can lead to numerous problems, including headaches, broken teeth or gum recession.
Giannetti and Booms say while genetics is a common culprit for a poor bite, environmental causes can also play a role. A few of those include:
- Thumb-sucking. Prolonged thumb-sucking or the use of pacifiers beyond the age of 4 increases the risk of altering the bite. “In a proper bite pattern,” Booms says, “the upper teeth slightly overlap the lower teeth. But dependence on thumb-sucking or a pacifier for extended periods can prevent that from happening. The back molars may touch when the jaws are closed but the front teeth don’t. And the frequent presence of a thumb, finger or pacifier while the two front adult teeth erupt can cause them to come in improperly.”
- Mouth-breathing. The inability to breathe through the nose can be a major cause of growth-related bite problems. “This happens to a lot of children who have precursors to sleep-disordered breathing, such as enlarged tonsils or adenoids, or allergies,” Giannetti says.
- Damaged or prematurely lost baby teeth. Booms and Giannetti note that many parents undervalue the importance of baby teeth in regard to how they can affect the bite. For one, accidents can affect the development of a child’s teeth and bite. “When a child knocks a baby tooth out, the buds of the permanent teeth grow underneath the roots of the baby teeth,” Booms says. “So sometimes trauma to a baby tooth can dislodge or move the developing bud of the permanent tooth, which eventually comes in crooked.”
- Cavities in baby teeth. “When children get cavities that cause their baby teeth to crack or be lost, if the baby tooth isn’t fixed, or a space maintainer is not put in, the teeth just drift around,” Giannetti says. “Teeth grow until they touch another tooth, and this process can be the root of most problems when it comes to environmental causes.”
“Getting your child examined at an early age by an orthodontist can uncover a problem, such as a bad bite, before it causes damage,” Booms says.