Around 4 million people in the United States have braces at any one time.

Braces have been common for teens for decades, and now more and more adults are choosing to sort out their orthodontic issues. But did you know that it’s more effective to start orthodontic treatment during childhood?

Pediatric orthodontic treatments can lead to better outcomes for kids. They can also lead to shorter treatments during their teen years. One important tool that orthodontists can use at this stage is a palatal expander.

Let’s explore exactly what a palatal expander is and how it could help your child to have a healthy smile for life.

What Is a Palatal Expander?

A palatal expander is an orthodontic appliance that is used in pediatric orthodontics. It helps to gradually widen the upper jaw. The purpose is to create more space for their adult teeth to come through.

Let’s clear one thing up right away: Orthodontists do not recommend a palatal expander purely for cosmetic reasons. They only recommend this type of orthodontic appliance when there is a genuine medical need.

The idea of using a palatal expander may be a little uncomfortable at first. But childhood is actually the ideal time for this treatment, as the two separate halves of the upper jaw have not fully fused together yet. This does not happen until puberty.

Palatal expanders can be used in adults too, but the process takes much longer. Children may be able to complete their treatment within 6 months.

Who Needs a Palatal Expander?

Most children do not need a palatal expander. They are only recommended for children who are already showing signs of having a narrow jaw. This can cause the following conditions:

  • Crooked teeth
  • Overlapping teeth
  • Impacted teeth
  • Crossbite

Bite correction is important for children because it can lead to other problems as they get older. When their adult teeth emerge, there will be insufficient room for them. This can lead to your child becoming very self-conscious because of the appearance of their teeth.

It’s also harder to keep misaligned teeth clean. This increases the likelihood of caries and halitosis.

If your child has a crossbite and does not receive treatment, it can lead to:

  • Teeth grinding (bruxism)
  • Pain
  • Irregular wear and decay of teeth
  • Extra stress on the jaw muscles, leading to headaches
  • Speech difficulties
  • Difficulty eating

Children and adults with a crossbite may also experience obstructive sleep apnea.

If you or your child has this condition, talk to your orthodontist. A narrow palate has been identified as a risk factor for sleep apnea. They will be able to advise you whether a palatal expander would widen the nasal passages and make breathing easier. 

The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that your child first sees an orthodontist by the age of 7. This will give them chance to identify any emerging orthodontic issues. Treating them at this early age, before their adult teeth have fully emerged, could be quicker and more comfortable.

What Are the Benefits of a Palatal Expander?

A palatal expander provides bite correction. It creates room for the teeth to emerge in the right positions and will help your child to achieve straighter teeth. 

It reduces the likelihood of your child needing tooth extractions as they get older due to overcrowding. It can also result in a wider, more esthetically pleasing smile that can give your child confidence as they grow up.

Most children will still need braces during their teen years, but they’ll usually need to wear them for a shorter time.

Types of Palatal Expander

There are two main types of palatal expanders: removable and fixed. There are a few options within the fixed varieties. Parents will need to make small adjustments to the expander on a regular basis.

Removable Palatal Expander

As the name suggests, a removable palatal expander can be taken out for eating and cleaning teeth. They’re best for palates that only need a small amount of adjustment. To get the full benefit, you still need to wear them the whole day.

Haas Expander

The Haas expander attaches to four teeth and has an acrylic plate in between. This exerts pressure on the teeth and the walls of the palate to gain the desired expansion.

Quad Helix Expander

The quad helix expander attaches to two of the molars. It then applies pressure on both sides of the palate. It does this gradually over time and does not need to be manually adjusted.

Hyrax Rapid Palatal Expander

The hyrax rapid palatal expander also attaches to two molars. The expansion screw needs to be adjusted regularly, sometimes on a daily basis, to achieve rapid expansion of the palate.

Are There Any Downsides to a Palatal Expander?

If you decide to go ahead with a palatal expander for your child, you need to be in it for the long haul. Whether you choose a fixed or removable palatal expander, it’s going to take dedication.

You need to help your child to keep on top of cleaning their teeth and watch what they eat. You’ll also need to make careful adjustments to the expander in most cases.

Naturally, every parent’s first question is, will it hurt? The good news is that there should only be minor discomfort when the screws are adjusted. This sensation of pressure usually subsides within a few minutes.

It’ll also take a little time for your child to get used to having it in their mouth. They’ll need to adjust and find a comfortable way to position their tongue, and their speech might be a little off at first. But kids are great at adapting to new circumstances, and most are comfortable with it in no time at all.

Book an Appointment at Sencak Orthodontics Today

If your child has a narrow palate, a palatal expander could be just what they need. It can correct a crossbite and allow room for straighter teeth to emerge. It can also reduce the amount of orthodontics they need during those self-conscious teen years.

At Sencak Orthodontics, we have a reputation as one of the leading orthodontic practices in Pennsylvania and Ohio. We’ve successfully treated many children and adults with palatal expanders. 

Click here to find your local office and call us to arrange a complimentary first visit.