Article at a Glance
- Palate expanders are orthodontic devices used to widen the upper jaw of young patients. They are usually the first step in orthodontic treatment for children who have crossbites or need more room for teeth to grow in.
- The appliance is fused to some of the upper molars with both sides connected by a screw that is turned with a special key to expand the palate.
- Aside from feeling awkward initially, palate expanders may cause mild pain under the eyes and at the top of the nose, usually after turning the screw.
- Caring for a palate expander is not difficult, but oral care routines may take a little bit longer depending on the situation.
For parents, learning that your kid needs braces is often a rite of passage, but what if they need more than traditional braces? There are many types of orthodontic appliances to improve function and resolve dental issues for your child. A palate expander is one option and can be a first phase of orthodontic treatment for kids as young as 6 years of age.
What is a Palate Expander?
A palate expander is an orthodontic device used to widen the upper jaw. This treatment is usually recommended for younger patients, preferably those under the age of 16. This is because children and young teens are still growing so their palates (the roof of the mouth) are still flexible because they are not fully fused. Palate expanders are most commonly used to treat a crossbite or create space for adult teeth to grow in. They are frequently the first step in orthodontic treatment before starting traditional braces.
How Do Palate Expanders Work?
The palate expander is an orthodontic appliance that would be cemented to some of your child’s upper molar teeth. Consisting of two side pieces that are connected in the middle by a screw, the appliance is not removable and will likely be in place for six to nine months. Palate expanders work by turning the middle screw with a special key. Parents will usually handle this part to ensure it is done properly. Turning the screw applies pressure to push the palatal bones apart until desired expansion is achieved. Even after desired expansion is achieved, the expander will likely need to stay in place for a while to allow the palate to stabilize and bone to form in the gap.
What to Expect from a Palate Expander?
Initially, your child’s palate expander may feel awkward, especially when eating and talking. You may notice some drooling or lisping as they become accustomed to the appliance. Palate expander pain is usually minimal but can present as pressure below the eyes or at the top of the nose, mostly after turning the screw. This can be treated with an over-the-counter pain reliever. As the palate expands, some gaps between teeth may appear, but these gaps will be corrected with braces.
How to Care for Your Palate Expander
Remember to take extra care of teeth and gums to prevent tooth decay or puffy gums that could grow over the bands. The appliance itself should be relatively easy to care for but may take a little extra time because of the position in the mouth.
- Palate expanders should be cleaned several times per day, especially after eating meals. A mouth rinse or syringe may be needed to clear away food or other debris.
- Avoid foods that could warp or loosen the expander like nuts, sticky foods, caramels, taffy, and popcorn.
- Do not chew on ice or hard objects like pens or pencils.
Are There Palate Expander Alternatives?
Palate expanders are generally reserved for use in young people whose bones are not fused, but there are a few alternatives for adults. Aside from pulling teeth, there are two main options to create more room for teeth or correct a bite.
- In some cases, if very little movement is necessary, a removable expander can be effective and achieve the desired result for adults. They are not suggested for younger patients who may have difficulty with compliance.
- The other option is a combination of surgical intervention and braces. In this case, the upper jaw would be intentionally broken to create movable parts that can then be shifted into place with a custom appliance and braces.
Does My Child Need a Palate Expander?
You may not even be aware that your child needs a palate expander. A dental professional should make this recommendation after evaluating your child. It is suggested that children see an orthodontist by age 7 to determine if they need orthodontic treatment to prevent bigger, long-term problems. If you are looking for an affordable orthodontist to evaluate your child for treatment, the team at Jefferson Dental Care can help. Contact the clinic nearest you to make an appointment.
Our Jefferson Dental Content Committee supports our team by educational and informational articles related to what we do, oral care tips, and current events in our communities.