Your orthodontist just explained that your child’s treatment plan must include a device called a palatal expander. You have never heard of such a thing before and you’re still unsure what it is and why they need to use it.
The first thing to know is that this treatment is used for both children and adults and the results for both are excellent.
In this article, we’ll explain what the expander is and how it works, as well as how to take care of it while it is in place.
What Is A Palatal Expander?
The palate refers to the roof of the mouth, which separates the oral cavity from the nasal cavity. It consists of two parts: the bony hard palate in the front of the mouth and the soft, fleshy part in the back.
After examining your child’s mouth and taking digital X-rays, your orthodontist has determined that the child’s palate needs to be a bit wider to accommodate the permanent teeth as they come in. This is the benefit of early orthodontic treatment for children; their bones aren’t completely formed yet and can easily be adjusted by using a device like an expander.
The palatal expander is custom-made for your child’s mouth from the X-rays the orthodontist did earlier. There are several types available, depending on the goals of the treatment plan. It is most often made up of two metal pieces that are connected in the middle by a small screw. To secure it in the mouth, it is cemented to the upper molars so it stays in place until the treatment is finished. A general time frame for treatment is six to nine months.
The palatal expander isn’t as well known as braces, so it’s natural for parents to be unsure of the benefits and the need for their child to use it. But, there are quite a few advantages to early treatment with an expander when needed.
What Are the Benefits of a Palatal Expander?
The main reason for early orthodontic care in children is to prepare the way for a healthy mouth for the rest of their lives. A palatal expander can help do just that by:
- Correcting several kinds of bite issues.
- Helping to align the teeth properly.
- Improving breathing by creating more space in the nasal cavity.
- Widening airways to improve sleep and prevent sleep apnea.
- Reducing the chance of developing jaw joint (TMJ) disorder.
- Helping to create a natural-looking smile and facial profile.
- Improving overall oral health.
There are dental, orthodontic, and aesthetic repercussions from a narrow upper jaw or crossbite. Facial asymmetry can be caused by these orthodontic issues and they can lead to other oral and general health concerns like head and jaw pain. Early intervention with orthodontics for children allows orthodontists to prevent many of these things from ever happening to their patients.
So, How Does a Palatal Expander Work?
As mentioned earlier in this article, the expander is often made up of two pieces of metal that are connected with a screw in the middle. The screw is turned slightly every day according to a schedule given to the patient by the orthodontist.
As the screw is tightened in this way, the expander is gently moving the bones in the palate apart. The orthodontist will monitor this movement as it happens until the bones meet the goal desired.
One obvious result as the expander works is the space that develops between the front two teeth. This is natural and proves the expander is working. The gap will close eventually, either on its own or braces will be used to close it.
Patients may be concerned about any pain associated with this movement of the bones. Much like braces, there will be slight pressure in the mouth when the screw is turned. The pressure will be behind the nose and against the teeth and some people experience headaches. Saliva production may also increase. But, none of these issues last more than several hours.
The expander will be left in place for a specified period after the orthodontist’s goals have been reached. This gives the newly-formed bone time to stabilize before the expander is removed. Then, decisions will be discussed with you regarding braces or clear aligners if needed.
Caring for the Palatal Expander
Once the expander is in place, the orthodontist’s team will show your child how to continue good oral hygiene with orthodontic appliances. The device will make this a bit more time-consuming but it’s critical to prevent the gums from becoming inflamed or decay to affect the teeth.
It’s important to remind your child to brush and floss as usual but to pay more attention to the areas around the expander. Get a Waterpik or liquid syringe so they can clear food particles away from the teeth and the expander. Explain to them why this is so important and monitor their efforts, especially at first.
Anyone who has a palatal expander will need to avoid sticky or hard foods. These can damage or loosen the expander. The same is true for chewing on items like pens, pencils, and ice. Give your child other food options to enjoy until the expander is removed.
The extra work will be worth it in the long run and will keep the expander from becoming damaged during use.
We Are Here to Help You!
The palatal expander is an unfamiliar device to many people. Its purpose is to create more room in the mouth to accommodate permanent teeth, and it is commonly used in children upon recommendation by their orthodontist.
There are many specific benefits achieved through its use, including correcting bite and alignment problems, alleviating sleep and breathing issues, reducing the chances of TMJ, and creating a natural smile and facial profile.
Our team, headed by Dr. Jeffrey Kim, is highly experienced and qualified for any orthodontic work you and your family may need. Consider us part of your team dedicated to a healthy mouth and teeth for life.