If a palate expander has been recommended for your child, it's only natural to have questions. Is the appliance necessary? Would it be painful? What does it do? Find out more about how this treatment can help guide the growth of your child's mouth.
What Is an Expander?
A palate expander is a device used in early orthodontic treatment to widen the upper jaw by expanding the palate, or roof of the mouth. An expander is most commonly prescribed when there is a crossbite between the two arches or not enough space for the permanent teeth to erupt.
Typically, the appliance is most effective when used in children and preteens because the bone sutures in the middle of their growing palates are not fully fused. This flexibility allows for changes in the growth of the palate when pressure is applied. A palate expansion may be the only treatment your child needs, or it may be the first phase before conventional braces.
How Expanders Work
An expander is custom-made for each individual patient and is cemented or bonded to several upper molar teeth. Expanders are not usually removable. The appliance has two sides that are connected in the middle by a screw, which is turned using a special key once or twice a day for a determined period of time. By applying gentle pressure over time, this tension at the junction of the two palatal bones will cause them to move apart.
Once the desired expansion is complete, the screw will no longer need to be turned. The orthodontist however, will leave the expander in place for several months to give new bone time to form at the gap and stabilize the expansion. The total treatment time is from three to nine months, according to the British Orthodontic Society.
What to Expect
Since the palate expander is moving the bone, your child may feel some pressure below the eyes or at the top of the nose, especially after turning the screw. Any pain or discomfort can usually be alleviated with an over-the-counter pain reliever.
An expander might also feel awkward initially as the person adjusts to eating and speaking with an appliance in their mouth. Some children experience drooling or lisping until they become accustomed to wearing a new expander. Soon after placement you may notice a gap forming between your child's front teeth, but this space is evidence that the palate is widening and will usually be fixed with braces in the next stage of orthodontic treatment.
Cleaning and Care
The appliance is relatively easy to care for since it's cemented into the mouth, but care may be time-consuming because of its design and positioning. The appliance should be brushed several times a day (including after meals if possible) and cleared of debris by rinsing or squirting with a syringe. Parents may need to help their child with cleaning and encourage additional time spent brushing to ensure that the expander stays clean and free of food.
Speaking of food, certain foods should be avoided to protect against distorting or loosening the expander. Discourage your child from chewing nuts, sticky foods, candy and ice and from chomping on hard foods and objects like pencils.
Widening a young mouth with a palate expander can make a big difference in the final result. By using your child's natural growth process, you can treat and even prevent teeth alignment problems. Early treatment will help achieve the ultimate goal: a healthy, functional bite and sensational smile!