Information on palatal expanders that every patient should know.

A palatal expander is one type of orthodontic treatment that many parents haven’t heard of before. However, there is a chance that your child needs this treatment. What is a palatal expander? It’s an early orthodontic device that widens the palate (also known as  the roof of the mouth).

Some children have palates that are too narrow, leading to orthodontic issues and other side effects. As your child develops, you could hear from your dentist that a palatal expander may be needed to deal with speech issues, difficulty chewing, misaligned teeth, or a variety of bite problems.

We get plenty of questions about this and other types of early orthodontics. Here are a few of the most common and their answers.

1. How do palatal expanders work?

A palatal expander works on many of the same principles as other orthodontic treatments. It applies steady, gentle pressure to guide your child’s upper jaw into healthier development, similar to the way that braces achieve teeth straightening.

The palatal expander is placed on the roof of the mouth. It’s attached to the upper molars and premolars on either side of the mouth by a metal frame. The two sides of the frame are joined in the middle at a point that can be adjusted to increase the pressure.

There is a tiny screw in this middle part, which requires a special key to turn. Your dentist will give you the key, and you will have to turn the screw a set amount once or twice per day. This ensures that the pressure continuously increases to guide development.

What is an orthodontist doing when they tighten braces? Effectively the same thing.

Eventually, your child’s upper jaw will reach a healthy size. Your dentist will let you know when it’s time to stop treatment, and the palatal expander will be removed. It is often fixed with dental cement to ensure it stays in place, so only the dentist can remove it.

2. Will my child experience discomfort?

One of the most significant concerns about any orthodontic treatment is discomfort. Parents who grew up with braces are familiar with the trouble that orthodontic appliances can bring. However, your child should have a relatively comfortable experience with their palatal expander.

The roof of the mouth is already in two pieces that bond together during development. In childhood, these pieces are easily moved by the palatal expander. This means that there isn’t any pain because the expander is simply guiding healthy development.

Your child might experience some discomfort, as they’ll be aware of the appliance in their mouth. It will take a bit of getting used to, but your child should adjust quickly. If your child does experience pain related to the palatal expander, reach out to your dentist right away.

3. How long is treatment with a palatal expander?

How long your child’s treatment takes can vary depending on their specific case. Their jaw may be more or less narrow, requiring a minor adjustment or more serious treatment. Your dentist will go over the complete details of your child’s treatment before moving forward.

Palatal expanders generally require shorter treatment compared to other orthodontics, such as braces. Depending on the severity of their case, your child may need to wear their palatal expander between six months and one year.

4. Are speech and eating affected during treatment?

Palatal expanders are often used to address speech issues related to a narrow upper jaw. However, parents and children are often concerned about the impact on speech during treatment itself. The appliance may have a noticeable effect on your child’s speech, especially when first adjusting to it.

When it comes to eating, a palatal expander is generally less of a nuisance than braces. However, you should make some adjustments to your child’s diet to avoid bits of food getting caught in the appliance. Sticky foods, like caramel or taffy, should be avoided, as should small hard foods such as popcorn or nuts.

5. What follow-up care is needed after the treatment?

Depending on your child’s case, they may require a retainer after palatal expansion. A palatal expander is also sometimes just one part of a larger orthodontic treatment, so there could be other treatments required.

After the expander is removed, your child may experience some sensitivity or soreness around any soft tissues that the palatal expander was in contact with. Simply being gentle while brushing and flossing for the first few days should be enough to avoid any issues.

Take a proactive approach to your child’s dental development.

Early orthodontic interventions, such as palatal expanders, can improve your child’s oral health outlook and prevent the need for additional treatment in the future. You can visit We Make Kids Smile for an evaluation to determine whether your child could benefit from this and other treatment options. Schedule your appointment to get started today.

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Prince Frederick

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Prince Frederick, MD 20678


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