One of the benefits of early orthodontic treatment is that your orthodontist can use your child’s natural growth process to treat or even prevent problems with teeth alignment. Palatal expanders are a great example of that.
Palatal expanders create more space in a child’s mouth by gradually widening the upper jaw (maxillary expansion). It’s not as scary as it sounds. The upper jaw develops as two separate halves that don’t fuse together completely until after puberty. Before that time, the two halves can be separated gently and stabilized over a period of several months.
Palatal expanders are commonly used with:
Crossbite: When a child’s upper jaw is too narrow to fit correctly with the lower jaw, the top back teeth will bite inside the lower teeth instead of outside. This can be corrected by expanding the upper jaw.
Crowding: If there’s not enough room for all of the child’s permanent teeth to come in, then widening the upper jaw may create the necessary space without requiring tooth extractions.
Impacted Teeth: Sometimes a permanent tooth can’t come in correctly because it is blocked by other teeth. Widening the upper jaw can allow the tooth to erupt into the proper position on its own. This happens most commonly with eye teeth (cuspids).
Expanding the upper jaw has other benefits, too. It can broaden the smile to make it more pleasing and improve breathing. Early treatment using a palatal expander may also shorten the amount of time your child will need braces in the future.
How Expanders Work
Your orthodontist or a dental lab will create a custom-made expander to fit over several top teeth in the back of the mouth. The appliance has two halves that are connected in the middle by a screw. You simply turn the screw a very small amount each day using a special key. This gradually moves apart the palatal bones, widening the jaw. Once the desired expansion is achieved, the child will continue wearing the expander for a few more months to allow new bone to develop in the gap and stabilize the expansion. Generally, expanders are worn for 3 to 6 months.
What to Expect
Your child may find that eating or speaking feels different as he or she becomes accustomed to wearing the expander. That will go away over time. Some children may feel a little pressure or soreness for a few minutes after the key is turned, but most people say the amount of discomfort is less than having braces tightened. Also, it’s completely normal to see a gap develop between the front teeth. This shows the expander is working and the upper jaw is widening. When your child’s orthodontic treatment is complete, your child’s permanent teeth will be beautifully aligned.
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