Also known as a palatal expander, an orthodontic expander is one of the most commonly used appliances in pediatric orthodontics. Designed to broaden the arch, this device can improve the overall alignment and structure of the mouth interior so that the upper and lower teeth meet. This creates a strong and efficient bite and limits undue wear and tear on the teeth.
Dealing with Cross-Bites and Crowding
Problems like cross-bites and crowding can be effectively addressed with the installation of an orthodontic expander. The expander widens the entire mouth arch so that the adult teeth have more room and problems like over- and under-bites abate. In order to expand the arch with an expander, however, the mid-palatal suture or growth plate must not be fused at the time of treatment. Thus, this type of treatment is typically recommended for patients who are below the age of 16. Fusion of the growth plate occurs when a child is 14 to 16 years old. After this time, the orthodontic expander is no longer a viable treatment and other corrective procedures must be pursued.
How an Orthodontic Expander is Installed
The palatal or orthodontic expander is attached to the upper mouth arch with bands that are fixed around the tooth structures. Expanders can also be secured in place by bonding plastic over the teeth. Our patients and their parents can choose from a range of fixed and removable expanders. When expanders are fixed, it is virtually impossible for patients to forget or lose them. This is a key benefit for young patients.
What to Expect After Having an Orthodontic Expander Installed
It is not uncommon for patients to report discomfort after having their palatal expanders installed. This is largely the result of having a foreign object in the mouth. After several days have passed, many patients report no discomfort at all. Ultimately, expanding the arch should be a relatively comfortable process, apart from a brief adjustment period. During the adjustment period, a child may feel slight pressure behind his or her nose, at the roof of the mouth and between the eyes. This pressure may increase once the expander has been fully activated; however, this sensation usually abates after several minutes have passed.
Parents can make the adjustment process a bit easier for their kids by offering soft foods that require limited chewing, such as mashed potatoes, yogurt, soup and pudding. Many patients are able to resume their normal eating habits within just a matter of days.
As the orthodontic expander gradually forces the two halves of the palate apart, a small space will begin to appear between the central incisors at the top of the mouth. When the expander is no longer activated, this space will often close instantly; however, the underlying bone structure will remain expanded. Given the rapid movement of the front incisors after deactivating the expander, these teeth may feel moderately sore and even a little loose, but these sensations will quickly abate.
Over time, the palate will gradually move back towards its original size, and, orthodontists often opt to over-expand the palate in order to account for this movement. The necessary amount of expansion can be different for each patient and is most often determined by individual diagnoses and treatment plans.