When Should Your Child See An Orthodontist?

As an orthodontist, I am often asked by other mothers questions like, “Does my son/daughter need braces?” and “When should my child see an orthodontist?” While the answers to these questions vary from child to child, here are some general guidelines when trying to decide when you should consult an orthodontist about straightening those pearly whites:

Braces are needed for any number of reasons and do a lot more than make a beautiful smile. They play an active role in correcting overcrowded and misaligned teeth. If severe enough and left untreated, more serious problems can arise like gum inflammation and cavities. In some children, there may be a discrepancy between the upper and lower jaws, too. Tooth and jaw problems can be caused by tooth decay resulting in early loss of baby teeth, accidents, or even habits like thumb sucking. Most often, however, orthodontic problems are inherited. So if you or someone in your family needed braces, it’s likely your children will too. (Often, your child’s dentist will be the first to notice problems during a regular visit and recommend that you see an orthodontist.)


An orthodontist can determine whether your child does indeed need braces and which types of appliances would be best. The American Association of Orthodontists recommends children be seen by an orthodontist no later than age 7.

However, this does not necessarily mean that your child will get braces right away. It simply means the orthodontist will be able to determine if problems exist and assess the best time to start any needed treatment. At this age, incisors have begun to erupt and problems can be detected such as crowding, thumb habits, deep bites, open bites and some jaw discrepancies. For some, a timely evaluation will lead to significant treatment benefits such as: guide jaw growth, lower the risk of trauma to protruded front teeth, correct harmful habits, improve the way lips meet, and improve appearance. However, for others, no early treatment may be indicated and the principal immediate benefit is a parent’s peace of mind.

Patients differ in both physiological development and treatment needs – the orthodontist’s goal is to provide each patient with the most appropriate treatment at the most appropriate time. Through an early orthodontic evaluation, you’ll be giving your child the best opportunity for a healthy, beautiful smile.

About Dr. Mary Ellen Dobbs

Mary Ellen Dobbs Dr. Mary Ellen Dobbs and her husband, Ryan, grew up in East Tennessee. She studied Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Tennessee in Memphis, where she received her Doctor of Dental Surgery. She completed her orthodontic residency and Masters Degree in Oral Services from the University of Illinois of Chicago.

Dr. Dobbs is dedicated to continuing education and her professional affiliations include the American Association of Orthodontists, Southern Association of Orthodontists, American Dental Association, Tennessee Dental Association, and Second District Dental Society. She is also one of the few area orthodontists certified by the American Board of Orthodontics.

When out of the office, Mary Ellen enjoys hiking, reading, and most importantly, spending time with her 6 month old daughter Eva.


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