What Is a Palate Expander and What Is the Best Age to Get One?
Hearing the term “palate expander” from you or your child’s Whittier orthodontist might leave you wide-eyed and anxious.
We want to ease your mind!
A palatal expander has been an important part of orthodontic treatment plans for thousands of patients.
Today, we’ll look at why palatal expanders are used, at what age it’s best for patients to get one, and why they’re essential for so many patients.
What Is a Palate Expander?
Sometimes, a patient’s upper jaw is too narrow. A palatal expander helps us widen the palate or upper jaw.
When a patient has a narrow jaw, it limits the amount of room there is for adult teeth to properly come into the mouth. A narrow upper jaw can lead to:
- A crossbite
- An underbite
- Crowding and crooked teeth
- Shifting of the lower teeth or jaw
- Sleep apnea
- Difficulty breathing
Failing to treat orthodontic issues can lead to a lifetime of painful issues, including:
- Tooth fracture: In proper alignment, your teeth take equal force when you bite and chew. Misalignment takes pressure off some teeth and puts it on others. Over time, the excess pressure can cause cracks, some of which are so deep that they cause cusp fractures or nerve irritation. The result: The need for crowns, root canal treatment, or extractions.
- TMJ disorder: You have two temporomandibular joints on either side of your head where the lower jaw meets with your skull in a hinge joint. In between the bones is a disc. Misalignment puts pressure on this joint, as well as the muscles of your head and neck. The resulting disorder can lead to facial pain, difficulty eating/speaking, headaches, migraines, and arthritis of the joint.
Palatal expansion can prevent serious, painful dental conditions. It can provide the necessary room for adult teeth and can even prevent the need for orthodontically-related extractions.
How Does a Palate Expander Work?
There are multiple types of expanders. Your orthodontist will determine which one you or your child should have based on your/their needs.
An expander is made of metal and fits in the roof of the mouth. Bands are placed around certain posterior teeth, often bonded in place. The middle of the device has a hole for a key, which activates the appliance.
Your orthodontist will advise you how often to use the key.
During this process, the expander will slowly and gently push the two halves of the palate apart. Some teeth will be moved simultaneously to allow space for the adult teeth.
What Is the Best Age to Get a Palatal Expander and Why?
Typically, the best age for palatal expansion from a Whittier orthodontist is between the ages of seven to eight years.
During this period in a child’s life, the palate is still forming, so it’s easier for an orthodontist to expand and reshape it. As a child gets older, the palate becomes harder or solidifies, making it harder to widen it.
If possible, an orthodontist wants to perform this treatment before a child hits puberty and finishes their growth spurt.
Palatal Expansion from a Whittier Orthodontist: FAQs
No doubt you still have some questions about palatal expansion. Here are a few of the questions we often get from our patients.
1. Is a Palate Expander Painful?
We understand, though, that the idea of widening your palate can bring to mind visions of discomfort.
Palatal expanders aren’t medieval torture devices, though. They aren’t something that will go unnoticed either.
Most patients state that an expander is not the most comfortable dental device they’ve worn but that it’s not painful. Some patients say the most uncomfortable part is having the device around their teeth because it gives you the feeling of pressure from food stuck in between your teeth.
When you turn the key, you’ll feel some pressure on your back teeth and the roof of your mouth, but you should not feel pain. The first few days will be the most uncomfortable. Each turn of the key amounts to approximately a millimeter of movement. Your teeth might feel sensitive because of the pressure. Soft foods are advised during this time.
2. How Long Will I Have to Wear a Palatal Expander?
The actual expansion period lasts between one to three weeks. However, you or your child will wear the expander for three to six months total. The purpose of this is to allow time for the bone to grow/reform into its new position. Removing the expander too soon can result in the bone moving back to its original position.
3. How Do I Clean the Expander?
Daily dental home care is always important but especially so when you’re wearing a dental device 24/7.
Brush your expander whenever you brush your teeth. If you can’t brush, rinse with an antimicrobial mouthwash.
Invest in a water flosser (like a Waterpik) to remove debris from under and around the palate expander. Do this at least once a day.
If you’re in braces, too, make sure you use floss threaders to thoroughly remove food and plaque from in between the teeth and under the gumline.
Taking care of your teeth, gums, and palatal expander will help you reduce your risk of dental decay, infection, and gum disease.
4. How Do I Eat with an Expander?
Chewing, swallowing, and speaking will take some getting used to. Besides having a metal appliance in your mouth, it’s possible you’ll also have some soreness that can impact how and what you eat. Additionally, your teeth will shift, and you may notice some new spaces in between your teeth.
When your teeth are sore, eat soft foods, like smoothies, yogurts, and soup. When you start eating solid foods again, make sure they’re bite-sized. Taking bites of food that are too big can potentially shift the expander.
While in the expander, avoid hard, crunchy, and sticky foods as they can damage your teeth, soft tissues, and get stuck under the device.
5. Are Expanders Contraindicated in Adults?
While the ideal age for palatal expansion is before adolescence, some adults can benefit from this process as well.
Unfortunately, since the bone has already fused, expansion is difficult for adults and the outcome less predictable.
Palatal expansion works for a few adults but most need to undergo a surgical procedure called SARPE, surgically assisted rapid palatal expansion for best results.
Patient Education: Knowledge Can Ease Dental Anxiety
We understand that dental tools can seem intimidating. Our goal is to ease dental anxiety, which is why we’re all about patient education.
If our patients have questions, we urge them to ask them. When you get satisfactory answers, fear of the unknown will start to fade away, making the dental experience more pleasant and less anxiety-inducing.
If you’ve been told you need a certain procedure or dental device (like a palate expander) and have questions, please ask us. We’re happy to take the time to answer all your questions.
Are you interested in getting a beautiful, straight smile? Contact us right away to schedule a consultation with an experienced, compassionate Whittier orthodontist.