The Importance of Observation Growth Visits

Every orthodontic journey looks different because every smile is different. While it’s true that no path to a straight smile is exactly the same, the Dougherty Orthodontics team recommends that every child visit our office for complimentary observation growth visits starting around age 7. Keep reading to learn more about the importance of observation growth visits and how we can give your child a head start on a straight smile!

Your Child Should Visit an Orthodontist by Age 7

Ensuring your child grows into the best smile possible should be a number one priority for any parent. In fact, the American Association of Orthodontists recommends that all kids see an orthodontist around the time they turn 7, so you should be ready to book their consultation soon after their birthday. You wouldn’t be alone in thinking that this seems like an early age for braces, but while some kids do start treatment at this age, comprehensive orthodontic care for children consists of much more than just brackets and wires.

What Are Observation Growth Visits?

The main goal of observational visits is to track growth over time. Visiting an orthodontist at this age allows them to assess your child’s tooth and jaw growth to ensure they’re meeting developmental milestones and their teeth are coming in correctly.

If Dr. Dougherty recommends observational visits after their initial consultation, you’ll visit our office once every six to twelve months for a check-up. During these visits, we’ll take X-rays and photos of your child’s smile, check oral habits like hygiene and thumb-sucking, and determine whether they need an early round of treatment to aid in the eruption of permanent teeth.

Here’s What We’re Looking For

Baby Teeth & Adult Teeth

Around age 7, children should have at least four permanent molars and two to four permanent incisors. If there are more or less than these present, it could indicate a problem with missing, crowding, or extra teeth. Sometimes removing a primary tooth early or maintaining a space where a tooth has been lost prematurely can prevent bigger problems later, but without observational visits, we wouldn’t know this was necessary!


Bite problems, or malocclusions, are indicated by the position of the jaws relative to each other. These common orthodontic problems could cause pain or discomfort when eating or speaking. Overbites, underbites, crossbites, and open bites are all conditions that require orthodontic care, and an orthodontist has a better chance of correcting them with early observation.

Crooked Teeth

Crooked teeth are more susceptible to wear and tear, and over time, the shape and position of the surrounding gum tissue can be compromised. Visiting an orthodontist at an early age could help us prevent severe misalignment when your child’s adult teeth grow in.

If Early Treatment Is Necessary…

While most kids do not need to start treatment before all their adult teeth come in, some children require early intervention to provide them with the best results possible. This is called two-phase orthodontic treatment. In these cases, it is extremely important for a child to visit an orthodontist for observation at an early age so that the doctor can catch and prevent more serious conditions before they begin.

What Is Two-Phase Orthodontic Treatment?

Two-phase orthodontic treatment is an early intervention approach that uses the natural growth of a child’s jaw to facilitate treatment. Only about ten percent of children have conditions severe enough to require two-phase treatment. However, early intervention can cut the risk of future conditions as well as the overall cost of treating them.

Phase I Treatment

This first round of orthodontic treatment begins when your child still has baby teeth. Treatment options may include expanders, braces, or other appliances, but Dr. Dougherty will determine a personalized treatment plan that fits your child’s unique needs. The goal of this phase is to guide the baby teeth into better alignment to make it easier for their adult teeth to follow suit later.

Phase II Treatment

The second round of treatment is the process that helps fine-tune your child’s smile, giving them final results that will last a lifetime. Dr. Dougherty recommends the best treatment plan for each child and utilizes state of the art appliances to ensure each treatment is a success.

Dr. Stefanie Dougherty

We Can’t Wait to Make You Smile!

Giving your child a head start on a straight smile is one of the best ways to ensure your child is happy, healthy, and confident, and at Dougherty Orthodontics, we make it easy! Whether your second-grader requires observation visits or full-fledged treatment, we’re here to help. Call our team in St. Louis to schedule your child’s free consultation today!