As kids grow up, they lose their smaller baby teeth and new adult teeth start to come in. Adult teeth are bigger than baby teeth, though, and sometimes little mouths just don’t have the room to accommodate those bigger teeth. This often happens when kids lose their teeth before their mouths grow enough, or when they have bad bites. The result: Not enough space for new teeth.
When there is not enough space for new teeth, it can cause them to come in crooked. When new teeth grow into the mouth, they will follow the “path of least resistance.” This means that they will grow into whatever space is available, avoiding other teeth. Often, this means coming in at an angle, rotating, overlapping, or simply growing into places that cause the mouth to become uncomfortable.
How Can You Tell If Space is an Issue?
Some parents know simply by looking at their kid’s smile that there isn’t enough room for new teeth coming in. For others, it might not be so obvious. An adult can tell if spacing and crowding of teeth is an issue if they see:
- Teeth coming in at an angle (either sideways toward other teeth or jutting in or out of the line of teeth)
- Permanent teeth appear “stuck” or won’t come in
- An abnormal gap between top and bottom teeth forms
- The child complains about tooth or jaw pain near the area where a new tooth should be coming in
All of these are clues that there might not be enough space for new teeth to come in properly.
How Common Are Crowded or Crooked Teeth in Children?
While there are no solid numbers on the percentage of kids with crowded or crooked teeth, it is a fairly common thing. (Walk down the halls of any elementary school and you will see plenty of kids with this issue!)
For some children, crooked teeth eventually straighten themselves out over time. This does not happen for children with a lack of proper space, however. Unless they experience a growth spurt where their mouth naturally expands and “catches up” with the new teeth coming in, the crowding will get worse.
How Serious is This Problem?
At first, crowding or crooked teeth might not seem like a huge problem. In fact, a lot of parents find it a charming sign of childhood. But that cuteness can mask future problems, like:
- Impacted teeth. Teeth that come in crooked or get blocked by existing teeth may stay under the gums, or grow backwards toward the jaw. This can be very painful. It can also cause further alignment problems with the jaw and surrounding teeth.
- Bacteria “pits.” Teeth that overlap can form small pockets that are hard to clean with regular brushing and flossing. These become pits for bacteria, which can lead to further tooth decay and gum disease.
- Abnormal wear on teeth. Crooked or jagged teeth can affect a child’s bite, which in turn affects how they chew. This makes the wear on their teeth uneven—a process that cannot be undone.
- Shyness. Although not a medical problem, the appearance of a child’s teeth and mouth is a huge determiner of how he or she sees himself or herself. This can have a huge impact on self-esteem and social interactions. Maybe children hate smiling in public or having their picture taken because of crooked or crowded teeth!
To avoid these possible future problems, it pays to fix your child’s spacing issues sooner rather than later.
What Can We Do to Allow More Space for New Teeth?
You can find more details about straightening teeth in our article “How Do You Straighten Crooked Teeth? What Works, and What to Avoid.“
Space for new teeth is typically created by slowly moving the jaw or palate in relation to the rest of the mouth. This is usually done by an orthodontist or other dentist specially trained to do so.
For example, such a specialist might recommend:
Headgear. Headgear is designed to move the entire jaw in relation to the head, using gentle pressure. This can free up space, especially toward the back of the mouth, and uncrowd entire rows of teeth.
Palate expansion. This involves a device that looks much like a large retainer, used to widen the roof of the mouth. Doing so has been shown to increase space for teeth and help correct a child’s bite.
Braces. Braces are a traditional fix for crooked teeth. While they do not create space by themselves, they can help guide teeth into their proper place. For this reason, they are usually used in conjunction with headgear or a palate expander.
Invisalign Teen. Invisalign works like braces but uses a series of removable clear plastic trays instead of metal wires and brackets. For teenagers, this is a good option because it avoids much of the stigma around braces while fixing another source of embarrassment: Those crooked teeth.
Pulling teeth. As a last resort, a dental surgeon may remove some teeth in order to create more room.
How Young is Too Young for Orthodontics?
Honestly, there is still a lot of debate about this issue.
On the one hand, many dentists and orthodontists argue that there is little benefit to intervention before most or all of a child’s permanent teeth have come in. They note that many children who have orthodontics at a young age then need additional treatment later on, when permanent teeth have come in. This doubling up on treatment can be expensive, not to mention what it puts the kid through.
On the other hand, many specialists insist it is easier to work with a younger mouth that is still growing and still very flexible. This increases the number of treatment options. as well as the speed of treatment. Some even recommend correcting space issues in children as young as six years old.
The best advice is to talk with a dentist in your area. He or she can assess your child’s situation and see whether there is truly need for a procedure to create more space. You can read more on finding a kid-friendly dentist and finding a dentist for a child who is “on the spectrum.”
Then, use our easy and friendly tool to find a family dentist or pediatric dentist near you!