What To Expect If Your Child Needs a Palatal Expander

This article may seem random, but I honestly think it could help someone in the future, like me, who literally had no clue what to expect.

One of my best friend’s happens to be my son’s dentist. After a few visits, she recommended that he see a specialist for a potential palatal expander. If I did not trust her with everything, I probably would have gotten a second opinion, but she looks at my son as not only a patient, but as a family member.

Fast forward, the specialist did indeed state that my son needed the expander. For those of you who may be just as confused as I was, a palatal expander is a dental appliance that widens the roof of the mouth, also known as the palate, to make room for crowded teeth. In addition to correcting a crossbite, preventing crowding and making space for impacted teeth to come in naturally, a palatal expander might also be indicated in cases of: an underbite, a crossbite, breathing difficulties and sleep-disordered breathing (sleep apnea).

After the consultation, we scheduled another visit to do the mold of his top teeth in order to create the expander that would fit his mouth. This was the worst part for him. Here me now … I promise, this was the worst part. If you have ever had braces, or a retainer, you probably remember the dreaded “impressions.” They are simple but extremely uncomfortable. The texture, the gagging, the forgetting to breathe etc. For my son, it was all of that times a billion.

Once that part is over, the doctor will send the mold off to the lab for the expander to be created. It took a few weeks for the expander to come in and once it did, we had an appointment for the doctor to put the appliance in his mouth. This part was a two step process – check that it fits and place the mechanism in the mouth with glue. This is a semi – permanent appliance that will come out in approximately 3 months (depending on the child’s needs).

Once it is placed in the physician will show you how to “turn the key.” Turning the key is a twice a day task for at least 10 days if not more. This process is done in order to turn a small screw in the middle of the appliance in order to widen the upper jaw.

In order to get through this rather difficult / cumbersome process, here are some need to knows, strategies and tips I wish I had known prior:

  • Your child will talk funny for a bit. It should resolve within a week or two.
  • You may hear additional slurping from their excess saliva production.
  • Try to schedule it on a break from school, or in the summer. My son had a tough few days after initially placing it, and I am glad we were off all week for Easter break.
  • Motrin will be your best friend when they feel mild pain or pressure after key turning.
  • Try to start out by eating and drinking softer foods until your child gets used to the apparatus. Yogurt, soup, smoothies etc. are a great place to start.
  • Ensure when they do introduce the normal foods, they take very small bites and chew more than usual. This will help prevent large pieces of food from getting stuck in the palate expander, and cause potential gagging.
  • Stock up on proxy brushes to get those hard to reach places in the event any food gets stuck.
  • Do not eat any sticky foods. EVER with the expander.
  • Be patient – it is a long process, somewhat painful, but will ensure your child has a beautiful smile when all of their permanent teeth have space to grow.
Erika Lockhart
My name is Erika Lockhart and I am married to my husband, Chris. We have two children - Zane (7) and Finnley (2). We also have one 4 – legged child - Nelson a mixed breed rescue and a tarantula named Twitch. I was born and raised in Harvey, LA but now live in Metairie. I am a full time employee for a healthcare consulting company where I lead the Primary Care Provider engagement efforts from my home office here in NOLA. My husband is the owner and director of Clockwork Performance - A strength and performance gym in Kenner, LA. Odd facts about me - I love watching Judge Judy, I want to be on jury duty as much as possible, I have an obsession with mayonnaise and my dream job is to be a private investigator!

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