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PORTLAND -- Healthy teeth can be straightened at almost any age, even though braces have long been a rite of passage for teens. But many doctors say kids should be getting screened much earlier than that.

The American Association of Orthodontists recommend the first screening at age 7, said orthodontist Dr. Judah Garfinkle. It's difficult when I see a patient come in with a problem that could have been avoided if they had come in earlier.

Garfinkle said even though your child probably won t wear braces until he or she is closer to 12 years old, he believes getting checked early can help avoid bigger problems down the road.

Garfinkle looks for six specific things during a screening:

  1. The position of the jaw - Making sure there s not an imbalance from front to back.
  2. The width of the jaw - If the upper jaw is too narrow, the chin can shift to one side.
  3. Any vertical issues - Like open bites where teeth don t overlap, or a bite that s too deep.
  4. Overcrowding - There can be too many teeth and not enough room for all of them.
  5. Teeth 'erupting' in the wrong direction - They can be pointed toward the middle, or even hit other teeth.
  6. Psychosocial factors - If children are self-conscious, it s important to give them a smile that makes them proud.

Click for more from the American Association of Orthodontists

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