Palatal expanders are a common orthodontic mechanism used to create more space in a narrow jaw. This treatment can alleviate certain oral health problems, preventing bite problems that can cause aesthetic and functional issues as the child grows.
When are Palatal Expanders Used?
Specific conditions that palatal expanders are used to correct include:
• Cross bite, in which the upper teeth close inside the lower teeth. This can eventually lead to jaw deformity.
• Mouth breathing caused by a narrow upper jaw, which can lead to dry mouth and halitosis.
• Overcrowding, in which adult teeth require more space to emerge.
When Should Treatment Begin?
Each case is different, so it’s impossible to know for sure when treatment should begin for each patient. With that being said, for the best results, children with an identified issue that can be corrected with palatal expansion should receive treatment as early as possible. In most cases, this treatment should be done before age 16, the approximate age when the mouth’s growth plate fuses and can no longer be manipulated by a palatal expander. However, it all depends on the unique situation.
What Should My Child Expect with this Treatment?
Although the feeling of having an appliance in the mouth may be uncomfortable at first, palatal expanders shouldn’t cause any serious discomfort for your child. The expanders are attached to the upper arch with bands and are tightened slightly each day. Patients often report a feeling of pressure in the area with each adjustment, but this sensation fades quickly as the child gets used to it. Some children have difficulty speaking and produce extra saliva for the first few days. If they have trouble eating during this adjustment period, serve soft foods until they adapt, which they will. As you tighten the expander, you may notice a space appear between the upper central incisors. This is a good thing, as it means the treatment is taking effect.
How Long Does Treatment Take?
Once the expansion is complete, the expanders will remain in the mouth to give the new bone growth a chance to set. Most patients use palatal expanders for several months or so. While some children do need braces after the expansion, the length of orthodontic treatment is typically shortened.