At Coppe & Sears, straight teeth are the main priority – but not every case requires the same treatment plan. Depending on a patient’s unique needs, they might need a tool called a palatal expander, which makes it easier for a child’s teeth to grow correctly. There is a lot to know about palatal expanders, so keep reading to learn more about this excellent orthodontic tool!
Palatal Expanders: What are they?
The bones in a child’s mouth change and develop rapidly. They are losing teeth, gaining teeth, and growing into a young adult, and with all that change, an orthodontist has a lot of work to do to straighten young smiles.
While a child’s mouth develops, the jaws do not always grow to allow the teeth to fit correctly. Sometimes, this improper growth causes jaw misalignment. Other times, it causes a narrow palate. This condition makes the upper jaw too small to support a full set of teeth which can cause a crowded or crooked smile. If Dr. Sears recognizes a narrow palate, he might recommend a palatal expander.
A palatal expander is an extremely useful orthodontic tool that helps expand the upper jaw to allow more room for a child’s teeth to grow appropriately. This tool is attached to the top teeth and fits on the roof of the mouth. By taking advantage of a child’s natural jaw growth and development, a palatal expander gently applies pressure that broadens the narrow palate over time.
How do they work?
Once Dr. Sears attaches the palatal expander to a child’s teeth, the tool requires minimal maintenance to start working. Palatal expanders are patient-friendly and easy to adjust – patients tighten their expander from home themselves! A palatal expander should be tightened once every day as prescribed by Coppe & Sears.
When the team attaches the palatal expander to a child’s teeth, they will give them a special adjustment tool and a tightening schedule. This tool looks and works like a key. To adjust the appliance as directed, the parent simply inserts the key into the hole in the middle of the device and turns. There will quickly be a noticeable difference in the child’s smile.
Children with palatal expanders usually experience little to no discomfort when they tighten their expanders.
Signs a Child Needs a Palatal expander
Palatal expanders work best for younger patients whose mouths are still growing. That is because the palate of a child’s mouth is made of two separate bones that meet in the middle. When a person reaches puberty, these bones fuse together. Until then, they are pliable — and that is where expanders come in.
The flexibility of these bones allows a palatal expander to work with the child’s natural growth. As the tool gently pushes the back teeth away from one another, new bone grows to fill in the space. Once this happens, the child has a wider palate and more space in their mouth for their teeth to line up properly.
Concerned parents should bring their children in for an appointment with the Coppe & Sears team to check for signs of a narrow palate usually around the age of seven years old. The earlier the Coppe & Sears team recognizes a narrow palate, the more likely we can address the issue or even prevent the need for additional care. If you are a patient in the pediatric side of our practice, we monitor these issues every six months at the time of your routine cleanings.
Narrow Palate Causes
Just like with any orthodontic condition, there are several possible reasons a child may develop a narrow palate. If a child experiences one or more of the following conditions, they may require a palatal expander.
Thumb-Sucking: Children who suck their thumbs past the age of four or five are susceptible to developing a narrow palate. The presence of the thumb as well as the sucking action result in a narrowing of the palate.
Genetics: Narrow palates often run in the family. If a parent has had issues with a narrow palate, it is a sign that their child may also develop one.
Tongue Tie: As many as 16% of children are born with a tongue tie. This issue occurs when the tissue section connecting the tongue to the bottom of the mouth is shorter than average. Tongue ties restrict the tongue’s range of movement so that it cannot exert as much force against the palate to form normally. Without the tongue’s pressure against the roof of the mouth, a child with a tongue tie could develop a narrow palate.
Living with a Palatal Expander
Palatal expanders are unique orthodontic tools. These tips and tricks can help a patient take care of their new orthodontic appliance with ease.
#1. Use special cleaning tools: Like brackets and wires, palatal expanders catch food particles that may be difficult to remove. Using the small brushes we give you or a water flosser may help loosen these particles to help keep the mouth clean.
#2. Avoid sticky or crunchy foods: These foods can dislodge or damage a palatal expander, and broken appliances can result in longer treatment times.
#3. Chew carefully: Palatal expanders fit at the roof of the mouth, which can make eating difficult at first. Take small bites to avoid harming the appliance, and eating will feel normal again in no time.
#4. Use medication to help alleviate pain: Although most patient do not need, an over-the-counter painkiller may be used to make discomfort of the appliance easier.
#5. Follow instructions: Palatal expanders require listening to the Coppe & Sears team. Trust that by following all instructions, the expander will help straighten teeth correctly.
Coppe & Sears: Here to Make Lexington Smile
From pediatric dentistry to orthodontics, Coppe & Sears takes care of all things smiles for children, teens, and adults. For patients who need palatal expanders, this team of experts knows just how to provide the care they need to get the smile they deserve. Schedule an appointment in Lexington today!