The American Association of Orthodontists reports that about 5 million Americans – both children and adults – are undergoing some form of orthodontic care. About 36 percent of these people are adults over 18 years of age.
For most people, the word “orthodontist” often evokes thoughts of traditional metal-and-wire bracket braces. What many don’t realize is that orthodontists are professionals who offer other services that extend beyond the cosmetic, and may be critical for the oral and overall health for both children and adults.
Dr. Alexandra George, a dentist whose practice is based in Pittsburgh, said that orthodontists also treat serious medical conditions that can include jaw misalignment. Beyond aesthetics, jaw misalignment, whether in the lower or upper jaws, can have serious medical implications and can even affect things like mouth versus nasal breathing and contribute to sleep disorders.
Temporomandibular joint disorder is another painful condition that can cause facial and jaw pain, along with migraines. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, as many as 10 million Americans may be suffering from TMJ disorder and its accompanying symptoms.
Orthodontic treatments can be cosmetic, medical or both. Orthodontic procedures for children and adults can involve examination, diagnosis and treatment to correct anomalies. So it’s advisable that even young children not skip orthodontic checkups, which should be done around age 6 or 7 to ensure all development is happening correctly, George said.
“Children should visit an orthodontist to check development of the jaw and teeth by age 7,” George said, echoing the words of other experts and professionals in the orthodontics field. “During this period, jaw and teeth development are usually still in their early phase and may be much easier to modify with oral appliances should the need arise than starting treatments later in life after development is complete.”
George focuses on dental services of different kinds but mainly on facial growth and development. She said regular checkups may help both adults and children prevent issues that may arise from orthodontic problems. She also said parents should see this as an important part of caring for their children’s oral health, while teaching their kids from an early age the importance of regular visits to the dentist.