Life with an Expander

Here at Smith & Heymann Orthodontics, when our patients think about orthodontic treatment, the first thing that comes to mind is usually something like braces or Invisalign. That totally makes sense! Dr. Smith, Dr. Heymann, and Dr. Skillestad spend much of their time treating Durham, Chapel Hill, Roxboro, and Mebane smiles with these sorts of appliances. But that’s not all there is! Especially for children, we often use a specialized tool called a palatal expander. It’s the perfect way for our specialists to prepare some of our smallest smiles for their permanent teeth. So let’s dive in and learn all about how palatal expanders can work for your child! 

Palatal Expander? What’s That?

Don’t feel bad if this is the first time you’ve heard of a palatal expander. They’re technical tools in an orthodontist’s toolkit that most kids won’t need. However, plenty of children are born without enough space in the upper jaw for permanent teeth to erupt properly. Luckily, this upper jaw area, known as the palate, is still relatively pliable during the earlier years of life. That means a skilled orthodontist like Dr. Heymann, Dr. Smith, or Dr. Skillestad can make more space for those permanent teeth to develop happily and healthily. 

That may sound intimidating, but don’t worry! This is a perfectly standard, painless process that takes place over time. The device gently and comfortably applies gradual pressure to the palate, which widens the area over time. 

Young childhood is the perfect time for this procedure since not only have the permanent teeth not come in yet, but their upper jaw also consists of two unfused halves. Once they’ve finished puberty, these two separate halves will join and fuse, making any work that involves creating space much more difficult. That means that this treatment benefits significantly from taking advantage of these pre-pubescent years. 

life with an expander

How Do They Work? 

We customize your child’s expander to fit snugly over the back teeth. This unique customization makes for the perfect recipe to ensure your child has plenty of space for those budding permanent teeth. 

After the palate has reached the perfect level of expansion, your child’s doctor will generally leave the device in place for another few months. This gives the newly-expanded palate plenty of time to develop new bone in the gap created by the device. That makes the expansion permanent, which is important for your child’s long-term orthodontic success. 

The entire process will usually take anywhere from nine to twelve months to complete. Once that’s over, your kiddo has everything they need to set them up for a fantastic smile! 

What Kinds of Problems Do Palatal Expanders Correct?

So we’ve talked about how palatal expanders work and what they do (they expand the palate!), but what exactly is the point of expanding the palate? What issues arise when a child has a narrow jaw that remains uncorrected? 

To understand that, let’s take a look at how the jaw and teeth develop. Your child’s teeth and jaws develop from about six to thirteen years old. Since some kids (around 10%, according to the American Association of Orthodontists) have narrow jaws naturally, they’ll develop one or several orthodontic issues. What are these problems, and how do palatal expanders reduce the risk of developing them? Palatal expanders can benefit your child’s smile by: 

  • Lessening or entirely eliminating overcrowding— your child’s expanders can make space for all of their upper teeth to grow into the perfect spot. 
  • Avoiding the danger of impacted teeth — by widening the upper jaw, we can effectively minimize the likelihood of developing impacted teeth, which occurs when other teeth obstruct a tooth and fails to erupt. This process lets create enough space for the impacted tooth to emerge.
  • Correcting a crossbite—A narrow palate can mean that the upper teeth will bite inside the lower teeth, preventing the ideal alignment where the upper teeth should close around the outside of the lower teeth. However, an expander can fix this before it leads to significant asymmetrical jaw growth. This restores symmetry to your child’s bite. 

life with an expander

Why Wait — Set a Date! 

If your child needs orthodontic care of any kind, Smith & Heymann Orthodontics is your one-stop smile shop! Dr. Smith, Dr. Heymann, and Dr. Skillestad are passionate about service to our amazing patients, and they want every child to know what it means to have a happy, healthy smile. 

If you’re in Durham, Chappel Hill, Mebane, or Roxboro, you’re in the perfect place for top-quality orthodontic care that doesn’t sacrifice a down-to-earth attitude of service. We’re grateful to be your leading orthodontic care provider, which shows in how we do business. Schedule your free consultation today!