Palatal Expander in Bryn MawrPalatal Expander in Bryn Mawr

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Does My Child Need a Palatal Expander? A Board-Certified Orthodontist Weighs In

Does My Child Need a Palatal Expander? A Board-Certified Orthodontist Weighs In

Dr. Karen Conn of Bryn Mawr Orthodontics helps parents understand rapid palatal expanders and when a child may need this treatment

When a child’s teeth seem crowded, or their bite doesn’t seem quite right, parents are sometimes worried.  As a board-certified orthodontist, I assess these concerns from parents all the time, and one of the questions that frequently comes up is: "Does my child need a palatal expander?"  While palatal expanders can be a valuable tool in orthodontics, they aren't a one-size-fits-all solution.  Not everyone needs an expander, and overuse can potentially lead to unwanted side effects.

In this article, I'll be diving deep into this orthodontic appliance, explaining how it works, the conditions it treats, and how to know if it might be the right option for your child's unique smile journey.

What is a Rapid Palatal Expander and How Can It Benefit Your Child?

A rapid palatal expander is a removable or fixed appliance placed on the roof of the mouth to expand the upper jaw.  This appliance can be beneficial for several reasons:

  • Correcting a Posterior Crossbite: When the upper teeth bite inside the lower teeth, this is called a crossbite.  Expanders can expand the upper jaw to realign the bite for proper chewing.  
  • Accommodating Severely Crowded Teeth: When there's insufficient space for permanent teeth to erupt naturally, an expander can be used to create room for teeth and prevent impaction.
  • Improved Facial Development: In some cases, a narrow palate and/or an underdeveloped upper jaw can affect facial growth.  Early intervention with an expander can promote proper development.
  • Sleep Related Breathing Disorders: An expander is a safe and effective option to open up the airway, allow more room for the tongue, and improve breathing.

Who Needs a Palatal Expander?

The decision to use an expander depends on your child's individual needs.  Here are some common factors I consider:

  • Age: Since the palatal suture is not fully closed during childhood, expanders are most effective between the ages of 7 and 10.  Early intervention can often prevent the need for more complex orthodontic treatment later.
  • Dental Issues: The presence of a posterior crossbite, severely crowded teeth, impacted teeth, or signs and symptoms of a sleep related breathing disorder are all signs that an expander might be helpful.
  • Skeletal Imbalance: A narrow palate or recessed upper jaw are indications for an expander to promote balanced facial growth and development.

What to Expect with an Expander

Expanders are typically worn for several months.  Your child will likely need adjustments (which can be done at home) to activate the appliance and gradually widen the upper jaw.  After the activation is completed, the expander is typically maintained in the mouth as a retainer to hold the expansion.  Most children adjust well to expanders and they get used to speaking, eating, and brushing the appliance within a couple of days.

The Importance of Consulting an Orthodontist

If you're concerned about your child's jaw development, teeth, or bite, it's important to schedule a consultation with a qualified orthodontist.  An orthodontist has the training and expertise to assess your child's specific needs and determine if an expander is the right course of action.  Early orthodontic intervention can save time, difficulties, and discomfort in the long run.  If you have questions about expanders or your child's oral health, don't hesitate to reach out to an orthodontist for a professional consultation.

Karen Conn, DMD, MS is a Board-certified orthodontist and co-owner of Bryn Mawr Orthodontics (Bryn Mawr, PA), where she specializes in Invisalign and braces for children, teens and adults.  She has been recognized as a Philadelphia Magazine Top Dentist, Main Line Today Top Dentist, Suburban Family Top Orthodontist, and is among the nation’s top 1% of Invisalign providers.  Dr. Conn received her undergraduate and doctorate degrees from the University of Pennsylvania.  She completed her residency in Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics at Temple University, where she also earned a master's degree in Oral Biology.

Bryn Mawr Orthodontics is an award-winning practice that was voted the Best Orthodontist in The Philadelphia Inquirer’s 2024 Philly Favorites contest.  Bryn Mawr Orthodontics serves its neighbors in Bryn Mawr, Gladwyne, Villanova, Ardmore, Haverford, Wynnewood, Narberth, Radnor, Penn Valley, Bala Cynwyd, Merion, Wayne, Devon, Berwyn, and the entire Main Line.

To learn more about Bryn Mawr Orthodontics contact the office today (484-383-0055) or schedule a free consultation online.

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