Caretaking for Loved Ones: A Health and Medical Blog

Bigger Is Better: How Palatal Expanders Can Help Your Children Grow Up With Healthy Smiles

Losing their original baby teeth to have them replaced with fully formed, adult teeth is a integral part of any child's physical development -- unfortunately, some children don't undergo a process this simple. The adult teeth that replace your child's departing baby teeth are much larger than the originals, and your child may find that their relatively small and underdeveloped jaw simply does not have room for the amount of adult teeth that have started to erupt.

This crowding of adult teeth can lead to a number of problems in later life, ranging from minor tooth crookedness to severe malocclusion which can encourage tooth decay and make eating and speaking more difficult. In the past, orthodontists would routinely solve this problem by extracting one of more of the child's teeth to allow the remaining teeth to grow in straight. However, palatal expanders are an excellent, non-invasive alternative that save your child from having to go under the drill.

What are palatal expanders?

Palatal expanders are disarmingly simple devices, and operate in the same fashion whether applied to the upper or lower jaw. Consisting of a simple plastic plate (superficially similar to a retainer) attached to metal rings, these devices are attached to the molars in a child's mouth and fitted with an adjustable horizontal screw. When adjusted by your child's orthodontist, this screw slightly widens the palatal expanders, gently forcing the molars apart and provoking widening of the child's jaw and palate over time.

What are the advantages of choosing palatal expanders over extraction?

Naturally, the chief advantage of choosing a palatal expander for your child is that it spares them the unpleasantness of invasive dental surgery, but there are other advantages to using palatal expanders to straighten your child's adult teeth.

Non-invasive adjustments like these also preclude the need for healing and recovery times and do not require your child to take powerful medications, making sure they don't miss any more time at school than they have to. Palatal expanders can also be applied by the orthodontist while your child is fully awake and conscious -- this can help reduce your child's anxiety about a dental visit enormously, although sedation is still an option if your child is more comfortable with it.

Are there any circumstances where palatal expanders shouldn't be used?

As a general rule, palatal expanders lose some or all of their effectiveness after your child reaches puberty, as the bones that make up their hard palate start to fuse together at this stage and become much more difficult to expand and adjust. Some older children and even fully-grown adults see good results from expander use, but older children should still look into other orthodontic treatments as an alternative.