Baby Teeth and Beyond - Orthodontic Care for Growing Smiles

When is the right time to take your child to their first orthodontist visit? At a certain age? When their permanent teeth come in? When your dentist suggests it? When they start middle school?

Actually, your child’s first visit to the orthodontist should happen earlier than may think. If your child is old enough for a visit from the tooth fairy, they are probably old enough for their first orthodontist visit. The American Association of Orthodontists suggests that children get screened by an orthodontist by age 7.1

Isn’t 7 years old too young to visit the orthodontist?

It’s easy to associate orthodontic visits and braces with older kids, usually around middle school age. However, if you wait too long to consult your orthodontist, the window to intercept some issues early may have already closed. By age 7 your child should have enough permanent teeth that the orthodontist can identify issues that could require early treatment.1

Early intervention can help keep problems from getting worse. It tries to catch them early, eliminate their causes and help the bones in the face and mouth grow correctly. Some problems may be easier to fix if they are found and treated early.

Some issues that orthodontists may elect to treat while a child still has baby teeth include:

  • Underbites

  • Crossbites

  • Very crowded teeth

  • Excessively spaced teeth

  • Extra or missing teeth

  • Issues related to thumb or pacifier sucking1

What are some signs that my child should see an orthodontist?

Don’t wait until your son or daughter turns 7 to meet the orthodontist if you think something is off. Early intervention helps problems from becoming more serious. Signs that your child may need to see an orthodontist before they turn 7 include early (or late) loss of baby teeth, cheek biting, difficulty breathing or chewing, crowded or misplaced teeth, unbalanced facial appearance, and more.2

Not sure if your child’s situation merits a visit to the orthodontist? Try talking to your dentist. You may not need a dental referral to schedule an orthodontic consultation, but your family dentist can be an incredible resource when making decisions about your child’s oral health.

What happens during the initial consultation?

Every orthodontic situation is unique, but the initial consultation is about two things: you and your child learning more about the orthodontist, and the orthodontist learning more about your child’s situation. The orthodontist and team will introduce themselves, answer any questions you have, and examine your child’s mouth. This exam may include photographs, x-rays, or high-resolution iTero digital scans.

Where things go from there will depend on your child’s situation and where they are in their development.3 The orthodontist may suggest a follow up in future (from a few months to a few years). They may also feel that early intervention is necessary and talk with you about a treatment plan.

Ask questions during your consultation

Make sure to ask many questions during your consultation. The more you understand about what your orthodontist is seeing and recommending, the better equipped you will be to support your child through his or her treatment plan.

Some examples of questions to ask if your orthodontist finds an issue include:

  • What is the issue (if there is one)?

  • What are options to correct the problem?

  • Will any of my child’s teeth need to be extracted?

  • How long will treatment take?

  • Will my child need additional treatment later?

  • How can I support my child through treatment?

  • How long will treatment take?

  • How much will treatment cost?

  • Will treatment mean lifestyle or diet changes?

Even if the doctor doesn’t find anything, there are still many great questions you can ask:

  • How long until you think we should follow up?

  • What are your concerns?

  • Do you anticipate treatment at some time?

  • When do you suspect my child will need treatment?

  • Do you see any oral habits/behaviors my child needs to address?

What if my child has special needs or sensory issues?

Children with special needs rarely get the orthodontic treatment they need, despite having a higher prevalence of malocclusions.4 If possible, you’ll want an orthodontist with experience treating children with special needs. You’ll also want to talk to the orthodontist ahead of time to discuss how they can accommodate your child.5

Neurodivergent patients also can benefit from an orthodontist who has training and experience dealing with the challenges they are facing. It is important to find orthodontists who can communicate, reduce the anxiety caused by the bright lights and sensory issues associated with orthodontic exams, and establish a relationship with your child.6

My child still has their baby teeth – do they really need orthodontic treatment?

In some cases orthodontists will recommend orthodontic treatment for kids between the age of 6 and 9. This early intervention is called Phase One (Phase I) treatment. It is also referred to as preventative or interceptive treatment.7 Phase I treatment is performed to intercept or correct a developing problem, not for aesthetic or vanity reasons.8 Phase One treatment takes advantage of your child’s normal development to reduce the risk that your child will need much more extensive treatment to correct issues later in life.

What happens after Phase I?

Treatment plans vary but orthodontists often suggest a resting period following Phase 1 treatment. Once this rest period is over, and most of your child’s permanent teeth are in place, Phase 2 may begin. Phase 2 treatment focuses on ensuring teeth are in their proper place for a healthy bite and a pleasing appearance.8

Treatment doesn’t necessarily have to mean braces

There are several Invisalign® treatment solutions that may be a fit for your child. These solutions offer many of the same benefits as Invisalign treatment for older children and adults. With Invisalign aligners, children can keep enjoying their favorite foods, keeping up with oral hygiene is easier, and clear, virtually invisible aligners make it easier for children to smile and maintain their confidence during treatment.

  • Invisalign First™ clear aligners
    Invisalign First aligners are a phase 1 treatment created to meet the specific requirements of developing children while providing predictable results and a comfortable experience.

  • Invisalign® Palatal Expander System
    Invisalign Palatal Expanders are removeable, safe, and clinically effective alternative to metal palate expanders. Used to expand the upper jaw in situations like crossbites and crowding. Invisalign Palatal expanders help create room for your child’s adult teeth to come in.

  • iTero™ scanners
    Using an iTero scanner an orthodontist can get a high-resolution, interactive image of your child’s teeth. This 3D image of your child's teeth helps the orthodontist determine if there are any issues that need treatment. These images provide an initial record which can be tracked with time. A great way to "show and tell" for all to understand. And the best part? There is no goop or discomfort, making it an excellent option for children with anxiety, sensory issues, or special needs.

Find an Invisalign-trained provider

Ready to set up a consultation with a provider in your area? Try Invisalign’s Find a Doctor tool for a vetted provider near you. You can even look for pediatric dentists who specialize in treating children.

invis is for kids

Discover if aligner treatment is right for your child.

invis is for kids

Discover if aligner treatment is right for your child.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this website are for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. It is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please seek the advice of your health care provider with any questions you may have regarding any dental or medical-related condition and never disregard or delay seeking such advice because of something you have read on this website.

Wonder if Invisalign treatment is right for you?

  1. American Academy of Orthodontists. The Right Time: When Should Your Child See an Orthodontist? ( Accessed 2/26/24.
  2. American Academy of Orthodontists. Your Child’s First Orthodontic Check Up ( Accessed 2/26/24.
  3. American Academy of Orthodontists. Early Orthodontic Care: A Path to Cost-Effective Treatment ( Accessed 2/25/24.
  4. Nayak PP, Prasad K, Bhat YM. Orthodontic treatment need among special health care needs school children in Dharwad, India: A comparative study. J Orthod Sci. 2015 Apr-Jun;4(2):47-51. doi: 10.4103/2278-0203.156029. PMID: 26020038; PMCID: PMC4427971.
  5. Rada et al (2015, May-Jun). Orthodontic care for the behavior-challenged special needs patient. Special Care In Dentistry.
  6. Buyukbayraktar Z et al (2019, Sep). Orthodontic Approach to Patients with Autism: A Review. Turkish Journal of Orthodontics.
  7. American Academy of Orthodontists. Decoding Orthodontic Jargon: A Comprehensive Glossary ( Accessed 3/1/24.
  8. American Academy of Orthodontists. Embarking on a Two Phase Orthodontic Adventure ( Accessed 2/28/24.