Interceptive Orthodontics for Children
A palatal expander is a device that literally creates more room in the smile for teeth by expanding the hard palate and widening the upper jaw. This may sound extreme, but in reality it's a gentle, painless process. As solid as it might seem, the upper jaw actually forms as two halves, and those halves don't fuse together until puberty. This means that during childhood your orthodontist can literally push the halves apart, creating more space between the bones and more room in the smile for teeth to grow.
Treating Bad Bites Early On
Palatal expansion can treat a variety of conditions, including:
- Crossbite: This occurs when the upper jaw is too narrow and sits inside the lower jaw when the mouth is closed. A palatal expander widens the upper jaw, treating crossbite and preventing future problems.
- Crowding: For some children, there isn't enough room in the dental arch to accommodate all the teeth. Palatal expanders widen the upper arch, creating more room for teeth and treating crowding issues without the need for tooth extraction.
- Impacted Teeth: If a tooth has yet to grow in and there isn't enough room for it to properly erupt, it can sometimes become impacted—growing in at an angle instead of straight. Palatal expanders create ample room for the tooth to erupt normally, preventing impaction and safeguarding a healthy smile.
- Aesthetics: In some cases, a palatal expander can help provide a more balanced, aesthetically pleasing facial profile.
- Breathing: Palatal expanders help the teeth and jaws fit together correctly, which can prevent mouth breathing.
The Expansion Process
Each expander is custom made to fit your child's unique mouth and bite, and it is mounted onto several of the top teeth in the back of the mouth. The device consists of two halves connected together by a screw. Once placed, your orthodontist will turn the screw to provide a gentle, constant pressure on the two halves, causing the two halves of the palatal bones to slowly drift apart. Your child will wear the expander until he or she achieves an optimal upper jaw width, which generally takes three to six months.
Some patients experience soreness for a few minutes after widening the expander, but this discomfort typically goes away quickly and is less uncomfortable than the process of tightening braces. When first getting a palatal expander your child might have some difficulty speaking or eating normally, but this is normal and fades within a few days. You may also see a gap develop between the front teeth, but this is just a sign that the device is working. When the permanent teeth come in they'll have ample room to grow in straight, healthy, and gap-free.