One of the biggest advantages to starting orthodontic treatment early is the ability to better adjust a child’s bite and jaw alignment. While the bones are still growing, it is easier to encourage the straightening and aligning needed to achieve good outcomes.
Palate expanders are one of the devices that can help with early orthodontic treatment, but many people have questions about their use. While they are not as widely known as braces or retainers, a palate expander can be very effective in fixing upper jaw alignments and encouraging a healthy smile.
Read on to learn more about palate expanders, how they work, and when they are necessary.
Palate Expanders Explained
A palate expander, or palatal expander, is an orthodontic device designed to slowly and gently widen the upper jaw. This is possible because the roof of the mouth, called the palate, is actually made of two separate halves that do not fully fuse together until later in the teen years. By using a palate expander, narrower upper jaws can be widened during this earlier growth period to fix a range of jaw alignment problems, also called malocclusions.
These issues can include crowding of the teeth and crossbite, which is when the upper teeth do not fit over the lower teeth. Palate expanders also help when teeth are not coming in because they are being blocked by other teeth.
How a Palate Expander Works
A palate expander is a custom-made metal device that fits over back teeth on both sides of the upper jaw. The device is connected in the middle by an adjustable screw that can be turned to slowly expand the appliance. This is done very very gradually once a day until reaching the desired width.
The palate expander will then be left at this setting for some time while new bone forms to fill and stabilize the gap. This varies from patient to patient, but usually takes approximately three to six months.
When Is a Palate Expander Necessary?
A dentist or orthodontist may recommend a palate expander for children with a narrow upper jaw who are dealing with the following conditions:
- Overlapping teeth
- Crowding of the teeth in the upper jaw
- Crossbite or other malocclusions
- Impacted teeth that are blocked by other teeth
Using a palate expander early can help prevent the need for more intensive treatments later on and can make orthodontic treatments, such as braces, be more effective later on.
Cleaning and Caring for a Palate Expander
While palate expanders are typically devices that cannot be removed, they still need to be kept clean. Cleaning a palate expander can be incorporated into daily oral hygiene practices by gently brushing the device and rinsing, preferably after every meal. This helps to remove bacteria and food particles that can cause a bad smell and taste, potentially damage the palate expander, and may contribute to tooth decay.
Dentists and orthodontists will also generally recommend avoiding certain foods, especially those that are very sticky or could get caught in the appliance, such as popcorn.
Pros and Cons of Palate Expanders
Palate expanders are an effective mode of treatment that can offer the following pros for patients:
- Helps encourage a healthy smile and more regular breathing
- Can make chewing food easier in the long run
- Can shorten the length of later orthodontic treatment
- Can prevent the need for more intensive oral surgery
It’s also important to understand some of the potential difficulties and cons that can come with these devices:
- Palate expanders can cause temporary discomfort when first installed, including mild pain, headaches, drooling, and minor lisping while the tongue gets used to the device
- There is some risk of minor anterior spacing of the teeth in some patients, which can later be addressed through normal orthodontic treatment
- Food and debris can accumulate and cause a bad taste or smell to develop, but this can be addressed with proper cleaning
- In older patients, the process can take longer and be more difficult, which is why palate expanders are usually encouraged in younger patients around seven or eight
At AC Pediatric Dentistry we can help you discuss the pros and cons if your child has been identified as possibly benefiting from a palate expander. Our caring, helpful, and knowledgeable team will be happy to perform a thorough and detailed evaluation and answer any questions you or your child may have. We are committed to making any necessary treatment as painless and stress free as possible.
Keep Your Family’s Teeth Healthy with the Help of AC Pediatric Dentistry
Going to the dentist can be scary — we get it. But it should be fun! Whether it’s care for baby teeth, big kid teeth, oral surgery, or orthodontics, our team of specialized pediatric dentists make the experience memorable while teaching you how to encourage healthy habits and good hygiene for lifelong smiles. Call us today or request an appointment online. We can’t wait to meet you!