You had probably never heard of a palatal expander until your child’s orthodontist recommended it. Maybe you still aren’t sure what it is and why it’s being added to your child’s treatment plan. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.
A child’s palate may require adjustment to correct a bite, ease breathing, or create room for the child’s permanent teeth. It isn’t unusual for children as young as five years old to be fitted with a palatal expander (also sometimes referred to as a palate expander) because their bones are still forming.
In this article, we’ve broken down some basic information on this orthodontic appliance and what to expect during treatment. We will describe the function of the palatal hardware, how it works in the mouth, why your child may need it, and how to care for an expander.
What Is a Palatal Expander?
The main reason for children to begin orthodontic care is to prepare the way for a healthy mouth for the rest of their life. One way that is accomplished is with a palatal expander.
The expander creates enough space in the mouth for permanent teeth to erupt without crowding or bite problems. It’s an easier task when the patient is young because the two halves of the upper jaw don’t fuse together until after puberty. So, your child’s orthodontist is taking advantage of the natural development of the mouth by recommending the expander to gently separate these two halves now.
Your child’s orthodontist will determine the need for a palatal expander after a thorough exam. This includes X-rays, photographs, and impressions of the child’s teeth. From that exam, a diagnosis is made and a treatment plan is developed that calls for the expander. Later, other appliances such as braces or clear aligners and retainers will follow. All of this will be discussed with you in detail and you will have the opportunity to ask questions and make informed decisions for your child.
Benefits of a Palatal Expander
It is natural for parents to question the benefits of the palatal expander, especially for very young children. Here are some of the reasons your orthodontist may have recommended it, as well as the expander’s benefits:
- Corrects several kinds of bite issues.
- It helps to align the teeth properly.
- Improves breathing by creating more space in the nasal cavity.
- Widens airways to improve sleep and prevent sleep apnea.
- Reduces the chance of developing jaw joint (TMJ) disorder.
- It helps to create a pleasing smile and facial profile.
- Improves overall oral health.
Now, let’s look at exactly how the expander works in the child’s mouth.
The Palatal Expander in Action
The palatal expander will be custom-made for your child’s mouth and consists of two metal pieces connected in the middle by a screw. It is cemented to the upper molars to keep it securely in place. So it is not removable until the treatment is finished. Most patients wear the expander for 6 to 9 months.
The screw in the middle of the two halves of the expander has a special function. It is turned each day with a key that gently expands the metal pieces. This pressure pushes the palatal bones apart until the orthodontist’s goal for your child’s mouth is reached. At that point, the expander is usually left in place until the palate is stabilized and bone forms in the space opened.
It’s natural to wonder if there will be pain for your child with the palatal expander. Each time the key is turned, some patients feel a slight pressure behind the nose and against their teeth. Some experience headaches. There may be an increase in saliva, also. None of these symptoms will last more than a few hours.
As the expander is worn and the key is turned, a space between the child’s front teeth will develop. This is the goal of the expander and means the process is working. Eventually, this space will close on its own, or braces or clear aligners will later be used to close it. A retainer would then be required after active orthodontic treatment to maintain the new position of the teeth.
How to Care For the Palatal Expander
Once your child’s palatal expander is in place, it is even more important that they take care of their teeth and gums every day. It may take a bit more time and effort, but it is necessary to keep the gums from becoming inflamed around the expander and to prevent tooth decay.
Make sure they are thoroughly brushing their teeth as usual, with a bit more care around the extender. A Waterpik or liquid syringe and mouthwash are also effective tools to clear away any food particles both from the teeth and the expander. Parents should teach their children how to use these tools and why they are especially important while the palatal expander is in place.
Also, explain to your child why sticky or hard foods need to be avoided. Foods like nuts, sticky or gummy candies, and popcorn can damage or loosen the expander, requiring a replacement. It’s important, also, to keep foreign objects, like pens and pencils, out of the mouth and avoid chewing ice.
With these simple rules, the palatal expander can do its job as quickly as possible!
Bernstein Orthodontics Can Help Your Child Have a Beautiful & Functional Smile
Parents often have many questions when their child’s orthodontist recommends a palatal expander. Although the expander sounds like an unusual orthodontic device for young children, it is a very common and effective tool. The bones in a child’s mouth aren’t completely fused yet, so it is beneficial to use the palatal expander while the bones can be better managed through orthodontia. The result will be a healthy mouth for life.
By understanding exactly what the palatal expander is and how it works, your uneasiness will be alleviated and you will be able to reduce your child’s fears as well.
If you have questions now or in the future about a palatal expander, we can help! The compassionate and experienced team here at Bernstein Orthodontics is ready to assist. Don’t hesitate to contact us to ask any questions or schedule an appointment.