Dr. Greg Jorgensen
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Rio Rancho, NM 87124

The Jorgensen Orthodontics Blog

What to Expect With Your Child’s Orthodontic Expander

Posted by Dr. Jorgensen on August 22nd, 2011

ExpanderOne of the most common orthodontic appliances used in young children is the palatal expander. These appliances look intimidating to patients and the thought of having to “do the turns” every day scares a lot of parents. What can you expect while your child has an expander in their mouth?

Arch expansion is one of the most common ways to eliminate crowding and crossbites in growing patients. Successful expansion requires that the growth plate in the room of the mouth (the midpalatal suture) is not fused. This fusion usually occurs between 14 and 16 years of age.

An expander is attached to the upper arch by bands placed around the teeth or plastic bonded over the teeth. Although there are removable expanders, fixed ones have an important advantage in that they cannot be lost or forgotten.

While there may be some initial discomfort when an expander is placed just because there has never been anything like that attached to the teeth before, for the most part upper arch expansion is relatively painless. Patients report that they feel pressure on the teeth, in the roof of the mouth, behind the nose, and even between the eyes as their expander is activated. This pressure fades within minutes.

Besides pressure, you can also expect your child to speak differently for the first few days. Additionally, you may hear them slurping as their mouth creates extra saliva after expander cementation. One of the most visible signs that the suture is opening (the desired effect) is the appearance of a space between the upper central incisors. The space is created as the expander pushes the two halves of the palate in opposite directions. Once you have stopped activating the expander, it is normal for the space to close spontaneously. This occurs as the elastic fibers in the surrounding gum tissues return to their original positions. The underlying bone, however, remains expanded. It is also normal for the front teeth to feel a little loose and get sore as they move back together.

To make the first couple of days more bearable for your child as they adapt to their new expander, you may want to find some fun foods for them to eat that don’t require a lot of chewing. Examples include yogurt, pudding, mashed potatoes, ice cream, etc. A day or two after their delivery appointment, the expander will feel natural in their mouth and normal eating will resume. While expanders are more forgiving of hard and sticky foods than are braces, it is recommended that patient avoid jelly like candies that would get stuck in the expansion screw.

Because there is always some relapse (movement back towards the original size), your orthodontist may choose to over-expand your child’s palate. He will decide how much expansion is necessary as part of the initial diagnosis and treatment plan. After your orthodontist indicates that you’ve reached your target, he will instruct you on how long the retainer should stay in place to stabilize the results. This may range from two months to the entire length of treatment.

501 comments so far in response to “What to Expect With Your Child’s Orthodontic Expander”

  1. Ellie says:

    I got my expander yesterday and one of the teeth with a ring on it really hurts if you put any pressure on it. Is this normal?

    • This is very normal Ellie. Your teeth are not used to having a metal band around them and it will take a day or two for them to adapt. They should be back to normal within two to four days.

  2. Courtney says:

    I got my expander a little over a month ago, my teeth have expanded a ton! This has made my a really big gap between my front teeth and I’m really insecure about it. I stop turning it today and I was wondering if you have a estimate of when my gap will go away. Thanks

    • I don’t have a specific answer, but most of my patients shows big changes in the two month interval between the time I have them stop and the next visit when they return for their next visit.

  3. Kate C says:

    My son (8) got his palate expander 1 week ago and it has fallen out twice already. It is a hyrax type with only bands for his molars. The first time it fell out (6 days after installation) it took 3 tries and almost 1 hour to reinstall by the dentist. He does not have brackets and did not get spacers before the impressions were taken. Does he have the best type of expander? should another process been followed? we are seeing the dentist again to have it refit but I want to be armed with some information. Thanks.

    • This is not normal at all. Expanders sometimes come lose in my office too. If it comes out more than once however, we take a new impression and get a new one. You can’t expect to keep doing the same thing and get a different result.

  4. İdil says:

    I got my expander 3 days ago it really hurts I can not eat every time the key is being turned I feel pressure and I also am scared to get a gap between my two front teeth dr.can you please give me some ideas of food i can eat without have to chew or pain and when will I get used to it??

    • You should not be afraid of the gap. You should hope for it. If you don’t get one it may mean that your growth plate isn’t opening. As for foods you can eat, try yogurt, pudding, ice cream, oatmeal, etc. just for a few days. I would get back to a normal diet as soon as possible however. An expander should not change your eating habits.

  5. Helena says:

    Hi there, I just wanted to know if it’s normal to have 24 teeth when your 11, my daughter has 24 and the orthodontist said that she will have no wisdom teeth… Thanks

    • There is no “normal.” There is average. A full set of teeth is 32. If you are missing wisdom teeth or have them pulled, you’ll have 28. If you have four bicuspids removed for orthodontic purposes, you’ll have 24. My wife and daughter each have 24 and they are completely normal!

  6. Talky says:

    How long does it take to be able to talk and sing exactly the same again?

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