Brought to you by Orthodontics Australia
My eldest son was 3 years old when he started waking up every night, crying in pain and telling me his teeth were hurting. Baffled, I took him to the doctor, who referred us urgently to a paediatric orthodontist. The orthodontist confirmed it – my 3-year-old had rotten baby teeth. There was a massive cavity in his upper left 2-year-old molar.
I was horrified. I knew the importance of good dental care for babies and toddlers and thought I’d done everything right. I restricted sugary foods and brushed his teeth twice a day. I’d even been lucky enough to be able to breastfeed my first son until he was 16 months old – he never fell asleep with a bottle (another known risk factor).
I was quizzed by the dental nurse on my son’s every eating habit. Did he drink juice? Yes, maybe once a week. The guilt was huge, I felt like his drug dealer. Had I caused this?
Hypomineralisation (aka rotting baby teeth)
It wasn’t my fault, explained the orthodontist, Mr 3 suffered from hypomineralisation – his molars didn’t have enough mineral in them to make them strong. Basically, they just crumbled.
Researchers are still unsure exactly what causes hypomineralisation but it appears to be related to:
- maternal illness in the third trimester
- childhood illness during the first year.
Ear infections and antibiotics, in particular, may play a part. Mr 3 had experienced all of these risk factors, so that seemed to make sense.
Rotten baby teeth and orthodontics – a necessary partnership
Mr 3 needed one molar removed, one capped and two filled. Fast forward a few years and his 6-year-old molar has come through behind the gap left by the removed baby molar. The problem is, the gap is now not big enough for his 11/12-year-old molars to come through.
I spoke to Dr Rob Schwartz from Orthodontics Australia about what the next step from here is. My son will probably need a spacer fitted when he’s older, before that next adult molar comes through:
‘Spacers’ hold space to uncrowd the tooth… A band is put on the tooth behind the gap and a loop is soldered onto the band, hitting the next tooth in front of it.
This is a preventative measure to stop the tooth from drifting into the space, allowing the adult molar to come down without disrupting the other teeth.
Does YOUR child need to see an orthodontist?
While I had him on the phone, I asked Dr Schwartz about my younger son’s teeth. He’s 3-and-a-half and at our last dental check-up the dentist looked in his mouth and said ‘Wow, your teeth are already pretty crowded, little guy!’
Dr Schwartz explained that it’s best if baby teeth have a few gaps between them – this means there’s likely to be enough space for the adult teeth to come through.
There are no gaps in my 3-year-old’s mouth…
So – when should I take him to see an orthodontist? Dr Schwartz recommended I take him in when he’s around 7 years old, his 6-year-old molars are through and he’s started to lose his baby teeth. This will give the orthodontist a better idea of what size the adult teeth are going to be and how much of a problem the crowding is going to be.
What else will the orthodontist check for?
Orthodontists are highly trained specialists – they get an extra 3 years of training on top of their dentistry qualifications! – who use a range of modern, unobtrusive methods to:
- assess your child’s teeth, bite and jaw alignment
- make predictions about what problems there might be as your child grows
- recommend preventative measures to make sure the problems never happen!
As with most things in life, prevention is far easier – and much cheaper! – than trying to fix the problem after it’s happened.
Signs you should consider taking your child to the orthodontist
If your child needs orthodontic treatment, it’s best to know early so a treatment plan can be set up (and you can start saving or sort out your health insurance!). The good news is that some orthodontic problems can actually be treated easily if they’re picked up early.
Orthodontics Australia has put together this helpful list of indicators to figure out whether your child would benefit from a visit to the orthodontist between 7 and 10 years of age.
How to find an orthodontist in Australia
Your dentist may refer you to see an orthodontist, but you don’t actually need a referral. Orthodontics Australia – the peak body for orthodontic information in Australia – have created a Directory of Registered Orthodontists so you can book an appointment directly with an orthodontist near you.
Have your kids had orthodontic work? Tell me your story in the comments!