If your child was referred to an orthodontist, you might be wondering what steps to take as a parent. Your first step is making an appointment. You undoubtedly have a dozen or more questions that we will attempt to answer here. If we don’t cover your specific questions, our knowledgeable staff is always eager to answer questions.

What Does an Orthodontist Do?

An orthodontist is a dentist specializing in facial development and the positioning of the teeth along the jawline. Their primary function is the correction of malocclusion or correcting the alignment of teeth. They also ensure that the upper and lower jaw are aligned to promote proper chewing and facial symmetry. Although much orthodontic care is about cosmetics and the smile’s appearance, the result is more about functionality.

Orthodontists complete the same initial training as a dentist, but they continue through an additional three years of residency with a primary focus on maxillofacial structure. Some of the most common problems orthodontists treat include:

  • Diagnosing and treating abnormalities of the mouth, teeth, and jaw
  • Determining the best treatment plan to correct malocclusion
  • Using braces, Invisalign, and other appliances to correct alignment
  • Maintaining devices and making adjustments during treatment
  • Keeping accurate and detailed treatment records

People may be referred to an orthodontist for many reasons, including:

  • Overcrowding
  • Crooked teeth
  • Improper jaw growth
  • Spacing problems
  • Thumb sucking (protruding front teeth)

Although some problems can be genetic, others can result from habits or accidents. An orthodontist looks at the entire facial structure to treat patients and create beautiful smiles. Doctors can correct facial abnormalities such as sunken lower jaws, overbites, underbites, and more to restore a fully functional smile that improves overall health.

Why Does My Child Need to See an Orthodontist?

Children may be referred to an orthodontist for various reasons or no reason at all. The American Association of Orthodontics (AAO) sets the optimum age for a child to see an orthodontist before their seventh birthday. That age is best because children will have expelled most of their deciduous (baby) teeth and will have a fair number of adult teeth. The remaining adult teeth will be poised to erupt. X-rays will allow the orthodontist to predict the potential for future orthodontic problems.

When necessary, Early Treat (Phase 1 Treatment) may be prescribed at that time to preclude more significant issues over the growth period occurring between ages seven and ten. Doctors can utilize the typical growth patterns that occur during that age to make treatment easier for the child. The doctor can guide the growth of a small jaw using a palatal expander to increase the available space for erupting adult teeth.

Most children do not need early intervention. For those that do, it can ease their emotional shift into the teen years and make alignment treatment easier. Children not requiring treatment can be placed into a monitoring program for the orthodontist to keep an eye on the growth and development of their facial structure. This allows the doctor to catch and correct more minor problems before they become big problems.

The Benefits of Orthodontic Treatment

In addition to creating beautiful smiles, orthodontics ensures a proper bite, jaw alignment, and chewing functions. When your chewing is better, digestion is better, and in turn, more nutrients are absorbed by the body, increasing overall whole-body health. Misaligned teeth can lead to grinding, trouble sleeping, and excessive enamel wear, leading to increased tooth decay.

The many benefits of orthodontic treatment include:

  • Beautiful smile
  • Better chewing
  • Better digestion
  • Greater health
  • Improved speech
  • Improved self-esteem
  • Prevention of long-term dental problems

Orthodontists use a variety of special oral appliances, including palatal expanders, braces, Invisalign, and elastics (rubber bands), to accomplish their goals of a straight and perfect smile.

Your Child’s First Appointment

When you make your child’s first appointment after being referred to an orthodontist, it helps to understand what will happen so that you can help your child understand. At Pezoldt Orthodontics, we find that explaining the process helps children relax, making the experience more pleasant. This can be vitally important if your child is younger. Teens are a bit less anxious but will still benefit from a discussion of the process before the appointment.

When you check in, you will have the obligatory paperwork and explanation of your patient rights. Once that is complete, you will move from the waiting room to an exam room. If you do not have recent X-rays from your dentist, our technicians will take X-rays of your child’s mouth. We may also take digital images to create a 3D map of your child’s mouth. After that, the doctor will examine your child’s teeth, gums, and jaw structure.

Once the initial examination is complete, the doctor will discuss the results of the exam and whatever treatment or monitoring is recommended. As a parent, you need to understand everything. Please do not hesitate to ask questions during this initial consultation. Whether your child is seven or a teen, orthodontic care is a part of healthy growth.

Orthodontic Appliances Your Doctor May Use

When your child is referred to an orthodontist, they may employ several appliances to assist in the task of creating and maintaining a great smile.

Palatal Expanders, Splints, and Jaw Repositioning Appliances

Palatal expanders may help guide the growth of your child’s facial structure to accommodate more prominent adult teeth. If your child has a small facial structure, guiding growth ensures a proper bite path as they grow and the adult teeth erupt. This can be beneficial in reducing later orthodontic treatment.

The same pertains to splints and jaw repositioning appliances. When employed at a younger age, these devices can use the child’s expected growth to lessen the treatment’s impact. These devices can improve early temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder easing pain and increasing functionality.


Headgear is a device that helps keep rear teeth in the correct position farther back to allow more room in the front to avoid crowding and other problems. This device is typically worn only at night.

Braces and Invisalign®

Traditional braces are useful in straightening teeth. They are available with metal, ceramic, and various brackets. Adjusting the tension on the archwire shifts teeth into alignment.

Invisalign are clear tray aligners that perform the same function as braces by gently applying pressure to shift teeth. The trays are nearly invisible, comfortable, and a great alternative to braces.

Retainers and Space Maintainers

Space maintainers perform the function of holding room for the future growth of adult teeth. They help maintain space along the jaw to guide teeth to grow straighter, meaning less traumatic later treatment.

Retainers can be used before and after braces treatment to ensure teeth remain in place. There are two types of retainers in use — the Hawley retainer made from metal and acrylic and a clear plastic tray style very similar to Invisalign aligners.

Permanent retainers may be necessary for some instances. These are bonded to the backs of teeth to maintain proper positioning.

Being Referred to an Orthodontist Doesn’t Always Mean Braces

If your child was referred to an orthodontist, it doesn’t necessarily mean braces. As we have discussed, facial structure is a part of orthodontics, and ensuring adequate space in a growing mouth is integral in lessening the impact of orthodontic treatment. Early intervention allows the doctor to correct problems before they become significant issues.

Pezoldt Orthodontics uses treatments and appliances that do the best job with minor trauma. Our goal begins with helping children grow with straight and healthy smiles. Please feel free to call with questions about orthodontic treatment. Our staff is eager to help. You may use our Contact Form or phone one of our offices at Modesto (209-231-8755) or Oakdale (209-399-3546).