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Orthodontic Appliances: Does Your Child Need a Palatal Expander?

It’s time for your child’s teeth cleaning and the dentist says, “It’s time to see an orthodontist.” Some parents are shocked by this recommendation, others have been waiting for the day to arrive. While all children should be evaluated by an orthodontist by age 7 or 8, some need attention more than others. The state of their mouth and teeth make it clear that an orthodontic appliance like a palatal expander may be in their future.

What Is a Palatal Expander?

Your child’s teeth may look just fine to you, but dentists and orthodontists can see – even without digital x-rays – when there are problems with development or the eruption of adult teeth. Add in digital images and it becomes clear to everyone that your kid needs help making space for their permanent smile.

  • A palatal expander is a common orthodontic appliance bonded to a molar on either side of the upper jaw.
  • The expander stretches across the palate and moves it apart gently and consistently.
  • The appliance is actively turned in small daily increments by parents (or confident children) over three to six weeks.
  • The expander then stays in place for up to a year to ensure the palate has permanently shifted.
  • This orthodontic appliance is used to widen the upper jaw, minimize crowding, help back teeth fit together, improve breathing, and, most of all, create room for adult teeth to erupt.

Common Reasons Children Need a Palatal Expander

A palatal expander is used at an early age because a child’s mouth and jaw are still growing, which makes it easier for an orthodontist to guide development. There are many possible reasons for a child to need an expander, including:

  • Crowded teeth: Make space for permanent teeth that have yet to erupt so they do not squeeze into the mouth and twist, overlap, or sit at the wrong angle.
  • Crossbite: A narrow palate can create a misshapen upper jaw which can lead to a crossbite where upper back teeth bite inside the bottom back teeth.
  • Impacted teeth: Make room for a tooth that cannot erupt or moves in the wrong direction because there is no room for it to drop down.

Benefits of Early Braces

Typically, expander treatment is combined with a mini round of conventional metal braces. Because the expander widens the palate, it also creates a large space between the front teeth. While the expander holds the palate in its new position, brackets and wires are used to close the gap and make the front four teeth as straight as possible.

  • The expander can minimize the length of orthodontic treatment a child needs when they’re a tween or teen – yet another reason it’s smart to see an orthodontist early in childhood.
  • The brackets and wires are eventually removed, along with the expander.
  • A permanent retainer is bonded in place to keep all that early movement where it belongs until it’s time for full braces.

Palatal expanders do major work in a short amount of time, saving kids from excess orthodontic care as they grow older. If your dentist recommends a visit to the orthodontist or your child is at least 8 years old, schedule a consultation with Dr. Mariana Orthodontics in Monroe, WA, and get started on a healthy, strong smile.

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