How Will I Know My Child Needs an Expander?
Utilizing “interceptive orthodontics,” or Phase 1 treatment, a preventative approach to orthodontic treatment for patients as young as 6 or 7, can help your child’s dental and oral outlook tremendously. At this age, teeth are still developing and the jaw is still growing. That means certain conditions such as teeth crowding and bad bites (malocclusions), may be easier to address. That’s where orthodontic appliances like palatal expanders are most effective.
What is a Palatal Expander?
A palatal expander is a device designed to help us take advantage of a child’s natural growth to correct dental/oral issues early on. Palatal expanders create more space in a child's mouth by gradually widening the upper jaw. Although this may sound like a harsh process, it's really quite easy — for doctor, child, and guardian. That's because the upper jaw actually develops as two separate halves that don't completely fuse together until after puberty. Before that happens, the two bones can gently be separated and stabilized over a period of several months.
An expander is custom-made by your child’s orthodontist and is created to fit over a few top teeth in the back of the mouth. The appliance has two halves that are connected in the middle with a screw. To activate the device, you simply turn the screw a very small amount each day with a special key. This induces tension at the junction of the two palatal bones, causing them to gradually move apart. Once the desired expansion is achieved, we will leave the appliance in for a few more months to allow new bone to form in the gap and stabilize the expansion. Generally, palatal expanders are worn for 3 - 6 months altogether.
Do Palatal Expanders Hurt?
There can be some soreness or a feeling of pressure for a few minutes after the key is turned, but activating an expander actually causes less discomfort than having braces tightened! Your child may find that speaking and eating feels different at first as the tongue adjusts to the presence of the appliance. It is also completely normal to see a gap develop between the front teeth. This shows that the expander is having the desired effect. When all is said and done, your child's permanent teeth will be beautifully aligned without too much or too little space between them.