EXPANDING THE PALATE

By August 15, 2020Orthodontics

a girl smiling at the camera

What is a Palate Expander

Orthodontists use palate expanders to widen the palate so that it is the optimum width. If a child’s palate is not an optimum width, other health problems can develop. Here are the most common dental situations that make palatal expansion necessary:

  • Crossbite
  • Underbite
  • Cleft palate
  • Crowded teeth 
  • Impacted teeth 

How Does a Palate Expander Work?

The palate consists of two parts: the soft palate made of muscle and connective tissue covered in a mucosal lining, and the hard palate made of bone. A child’s hard palate develops in two halves that grow throughout childhood. The two halves do not fuse until after puberty.

A palatal expander slowly pushes the two halves apart. By gradually widening the palate, we take advantage of a child’s natural bone growth. This gives time for new bone and cartilage to form in between the two halves of the upper jaw while the child is still growing. This makes palatal expansion in children much simpler than if they wait until after puberty when the upper jaw bones stop growing and fusing. 

What to Expect

The palate expander may cause some changes for the child until they get used to it. For example they can experience: 

  • A temporary lisp or slurred speech
  • Excess saliva for a few days
  • Possible initial difficulty chewing and swallowing
  • Pressure on the teeth, palate, and nose after turning
  • Temporary tongue irritation
  • A temporary space opening between the front teeth

Cleaning the Expander

It is important to keep the expander clean otherwise food and tartar can build up on the edges and also if food particles are left, they can cause irritation to the mouth.

  1. Brush thoroughly after meals to keep the expander free of food and plaque.
  2. Use a syringe to assist cleaning.

Foods

You want to avoid foods that can dislodge the expander such as gum, taffy, caramels, or licorice. Do not eat hard foods like ice, nuts, or popcorn. Whole raw carrots, celery, and apples should be cut into bite-size pieces. Until the expander feels natural, serve foods that don’t require a lot of chewing, such as yogurt, ice cream, pudding, soup, or mashed potatoes. 

 Problems/Solutions

  • If your expander comes out, schedule an appointment and bring it in with you so we can replace it.
  • You may experience discomfort. This is not uncommon. You can treat it with Ibuprofen, Motrin, or Advil as needed. 

1. This is what the expander looks like. The arrows indicate the way the expander should be turned.

3. Turn the expander toward the back of the mouth until you can see the next hole.

2. Opening as wide as possible can minimize the gag reflex. Insert the key in the center hole and turn in the direction of the arrows.

4. Carefully remove the key in a down-and-back direction as to not un-turn the expander.

Turn TWICE A DAY for TEN DAYS then take a break until your next appointment.