A palate expander, sometimes referred to as a palatal expander, is a very special orthodontic appliance used on certain children. At Central Texas Orthodontics in Austin, TX, we offer palate expansion for children because we understand how important it is that there is plenty of room for adult teeth to grow in. Today, we’re taking a closer look at this treatment and other treatments your child may need for a healthy mouth.
What Does a Palate Expander Do?
A palatal expander is a special orthodontic appliance designed to widen the upper jaw, expanding the palate. It works with nothing more than a turn of a key. The expander is placed in the mouth with one half connected to one side of the jaw and the other half connected to the other side of the jaw. A key will need to be regularly turned, which will crank the appliance and widen the space between the palate bones just a little.
How Quickly Does It Work?
A palate expander works very quickly if it is used consistently. However, if the key is not turned at regular intervals, the treatment will take longer than it should. As a general rule of thumb, you can expect your child’s palate expansion process to take between three and six weeks. However, the appliance is usually kept in the mouth for five to six months, allowing adequate time for the newly widened jaw bone to mature.
Individual treatment will vary. However, you should not be surprised if your child needs to turn their expander 28 to 42 times once daily. If they eat breakfast at the same time every morning regardless of whether it is a school day, you may want to incorporate their palate expander adjustment into their morning routine so they are less likely to forget it. If they need to adjust their expander twice daily, a phone alarm may be a helpful tool to remind them.
Is This Treatment Painful?
While it may sound painful for an orthodontic appliance to be attached to the upper jaw, it is not painful. Each palatal expander is custom-made for each individual’s mouth. In fact, if your child is a good candidate for this treatment, they will not have the appliance installed on the first day.
Rather, an impression of the mouth will be made with the help of bands placed on the upper molars. It will take a couple of weeks for the custom appliance to be made. Once it is ready, it will be attached to the upper teeth with dental cement.
What Does This Appliance Feel Like?
To reiterate, your child won’t feel any pain when the palatal expander is attached to the top of their mouth. However, they will feel the appliance in their mouth, especially at first. In many cases, pressure will be felt at the top of the mouth and on the top of the tongue. In some cases, this pressure will also be felt in the sinus area of the nose and eyes. However, this pressure will quickly dissipate as they get used to the appliance.
Furthermore, your child should not be surprised if they salivate more often than normal as they acclimate to the appliance. Also, talking and eating may feel funny at first. However, they will get used to the appliance quickly.
Will My Child Need to Change Their Diet During Their Treatment?
Whether your child will need to change their diet while going through their palatal expansion treatment depends on what their diet currently consists of. There are dietary restrictions that they should strongly consider sticking to. For example, it is important to avoid eating or chewing on sticky foods, like caramels, taffy, and bubble gum.
Also, for the most part, hard foods should be avoided. For instance, your child should stop eating popcorn and nuts temporarily, and they should not chew on ice. Certain hard foods, like apples, celery sticks, and raw carrots should be cut into bite-size pieces before they are consumed. Foods that should be incorporated into your child’s diet include whole grain bread, nut butter for protein, meat, whole dairy products, and plenty of vegetables and fruits.
How Should My Child Care for Their Mouth During Their Treatment?
Fortunately, oral care while getting palatal expansion treatment is simple. Just like your child should brush their teeth and tongue at least twice daily, it is vital that they brush their palatal expander at least twice daily. Furthermore, it is extremely important that they rinse the region around the expander thoroughly after each meal.
Ideally, the palatal expander should be brushed after every meal. However, if your child eats lunch at school, this is not practical. At the very least, they should rinse their mouth thoroughly with water or mouthwash after eating lunch or snacks. Note, you may want to buy your child a water flosser to ensure plaque and food particles are removed from the palatal expander effectively.
What Kind of Toothbrush Is Ideal?
In addition to investing in a water flosser for your child, you may want to invest in a new toothbrush for your child during their palate expansion treatment. For the safest, most effective oral health care practice, it is of the utmost importance that your child uses a soft-bristled toothbrush. It is important to not use a medium- or hard-bristled toothbrush because if your child brushes too aggressively while using such a toothbrush, damage to the gums can occur.
Note, another important part of your child keeping their mouth clean during their palate expansion treatment is to use a minimally abrasive toothpaste and antimicrobial mouthwash.
Who Is a Good Candidate for This Orthodontic Treatment?
As a general rule of thumb, your child will be considered a good candidate for this orthodontic treatment if they have a moderate-to-severe crossbite, impacted teeth, or crowding. Impacted teeth occur when tooth crowding is severe. A tooth becomes impacted when it is fully formed underneath the jaw but it can’t penetrate the gumline because there is not enough space.
Crowding is a condition that occurs when there is not enough space for all of the permanent teeth in the mouth. In many cases, biting becomes painful due to the overlap. While a palatal expander may sound scary, if your child doesn’t have their palate expanded, they may need some of their permanent teeth removed. A crossbite is a condition that results from a palate that is too narrow. People with this condition have top teeth that sit inside the bottom teeth when biting.
What Is the Best Age for Receiving This Treatment?
Generally, the ideal time for females to receive this treatment is around the age of 12 or 13. Generally, the ideal time for males to receive this treatment is around the age of 13 or 14. This treatment is not appropriate for adults because the palatal suture fuses and calcifies around the time of adolescence. Once all of the palatal sutures are closed, no orthodontic appliance will be able to expand the upper jaw and palate.
What If an Adult Has a Narrow Palate?
If you or a loved one is over the age of 13 or 14 and wants to expand their palate to correct crowding or an overbite, there is hope. While you can’t get a palatal expander treatment because it won’t be effective, you may be a good fit for palate expansion surgery or braces.
Am I a Good Candidate for Braces?
To find out whether you are a good candidate for braces, you need to attend an initial evaluation with an orthodontist. Often, braces are recommended for people who are worried about crooked teeth. However, they can be a very effective orthodontic tool for adults and older teens with a moderate-to-severe overbite caused by a narrow upper jaw. Moreover, you may be considered a good candidate for braces if you are worried about:
- An open bite
- Significant tooth gaps
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that a palate expander widens the upper jaw, expanding the palate so there is plenty of room for teeth to grow. Expanding the palate can also treat moderate-to-severe crossbites. If you think your child could benefit from treatment with this orthodontic tool, contact us today at Central Texas Orthodontics in Austin, TX to schedule an appointment. We look forward to the opportunity to help your child grow up with a healthy mouth.