When Is a Palatal Expander Right for Your Child?

Does your child need a palatal expander

If you have taken your child for a dental checkup lately, you might have heard the dentist mention that a palatal expander is necessary in the future. While we have all heard of braces and orthodontics, many parents scratch their heads regarding expanders because they’ve never heard of them. This isn’t all that surprising. Not all kids need palatal expanders, and the usage isn’t all that common. But there are some instances when a palatal expander is right for your child. Here is what you need to know.

What is a palatal expander?

Dentists and orthodontists often recommend palatal expanders for kids who need their upper jaw widened. This is common in kids who have certain dental conditions. Depending on your child’s age and the severity of their situation, they might need to wear their expander for a few weeks. In other cases, treatment may require several months or even up to a year. 

Your child might need palate expansion if they have:

  • Impacted teeth.
  • Crowded teeth.
  • Crossbites.

Typically, the need for a palate expander is identified at your child’s early orthodontic evaluation around age seven. As your child’s palate is still forming at this age, it is easier for dentists to reshape it. As kids get older, their palate structure solidifies, making it harder to widen. For this reason, most dental professionals recommend palate expander treatment before kids finish their big growth spurt around age 12 or 13.

How does a palatal expander work?

The roof of your mouth (aka your palate) has two halves on the left and right that are joined in the middle. Using gentle pressure, a palate expander applies steady and equal force to both sides of the palate. Over time, the two halves of the palate begin to separate, widening the jaw. As the palate broadens, it allows new bone to generate and fill the space that is left behind.

After the upper jaw expansion is complete, the next step is usually braces. The expander stays in place, and the dentist or orthodontist will add the braces. This is when the bite correction, spacing alignment, crowding correction, and tooth rotations begin.

The Benefits of Early Orthodontic Evaluation

We mentioned the concept of an early orthodontic evaluation. During this specialized time with your child’s dentist, we will look for the following:

  • Buck teeth.
  • Deep bite.
  • Underbite.
  • Open bite.
  • Crossbite.
  • Dental crowding.

The dentist will determine if early orthodontic intervention, such as a palatal expander, is needed. In general, we might recommend treatment for the following reasons:

  • A particular challenge has been identified, and we want to prevent it from progressing.
  • Your child is at risk for developing a specific dental issue, and we want to avoid it.
  • Your child’s jawbones need a bit of guidance as they grow. 

In other cases, it may be decided that no orthodontic treatment will be required in the future, or intervention may be needed, but not yet. 

Parents ask us if early intervention, or even an evaluation, is necessary. And the truth is that having your dentist identify needs early, can help you avoid costly treatments later.

Preparing Your Child for a Palatal Expander

If you have been told that your child needs a palatal expander, there are things you can do to help improve their overall experience. And it all starts by demonstrating a positive mindset for your child. Many kids get anxious about having someone work on their mouth, even if it is their friendly kids’ dentist, so, help your child understand what to expect in advance. This will help make the outcomes of their treatment much more positive.

  1. The day before your child’s appointment to get their palatal expander, do something fun. Perhaps go out to eat as a family or buy them their favorite book at the bookstore. Encourage conversation so that your child can ask any questions they might have about what is going to happen the following day.
  2. Make sure you have some over-the-counter pain relievers at home. Many kids feel some pressure when the expander goes in. Give them the manufacturer-recommended dose of your preferred pain reliever about 30 minutes prior to their appointment. Treat them with an anti-inflammatory pain reliever as needed for the first few days after the appointment. Be sure to check with your child’s doctor and follow any special instructions for pain-relieving medications.
  3. Stock up on some soft foods. This might be a great activity to do with your child the day before. Kids might have a weird feeling in their mouth for the first few days as they get used to their palatal expander. Stick to soft foods like applesauce, ice cream, pudding, etc. We know many kids quickly get over any discomfort or fears of an expander when they find out they can have ice cream every day for a few days.
  4. Get a Waterpik to help clean around the expander, as expanders are notorious for trapping foods when your kids eat. A Waterpik or other water flosser dislodges food caught in the expander. Once the food is loosened, have your child brush away the debris with their soft-bristled toothbrush.
  5. Follow your child’s dentist’s recommendations on follow-up appointments, tightening of the expander, etc.

Sheppard Family Dental Care in Lawton, OK, is your orthodontics dentist. 

We know that parents have a lot of things to juggle, and an added trip to the dentist for orthodontics care is just one of them. However, with an early orthodontic evaluation, we can lessen the risk of more time-consuming and costly treatments for your child. Whether your child needs a palatal expander or something else, we’re here to help guide you and treat your child.

We offer a wide range of orthodontic treatments to care for any concern. And our kid-friendly approach to dentistry helps to put children at ease. If it is time for your child’s orthodontic evaluation or you have concerns about their oral health, be sure to contact us to request an appointment with Sheppard Family Dental Care in Lawton, OK. We look forward to seeing you.

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