A Parent’s Guide to Expanders: What to Expect When Your Child is Under Treatment

What are expanders for braces?

It can be tough to get clear answers about dental expanders for kids. First off, they’re called by all kinds of names online: Expanders for teeth, expanders for braces, and more. The technical term is orthodontic expanders, because they can only be placed by a trained orthodontist.

No matter what name they go by, though, the purpose of orthodontic expanders remains the same. It can be confusing at first because not all kids will need expanders, even if they are getting an early start on orthodontic treatment. On the other hand, some get expanders as the first step in their care.

Why Some Kids Need Orthodontic Expanders to Improve Dental Health

Orthodontic care isn’t just for looks – it really influences the ability of your teeth to stand up to the big pressures placed on them every day.

This is never more obvious than when it comes to orthodontic expanders. Getting expanders at the right time can help make a child’s growing up process much easier!

Sometimes, parents are unsure about why kids need to go to the orthodontist early, when they still have all their baby teeth. The expander is one reason why. It is used when your orthodontist detects a problem in the way adult teeth are growing in – or likely to grow in.

These devices help widen the child’s jaw or palate to ensure there will be enough room for the adult teeth to grow in safely. Getting started early may mean that all of the teeth grow in just as planned.

That could prevent the need for future orthodontic treatment, such as braces.

What Are Orthodontic Expanders and How Are They Used?

Expanders look much simpler than braces. It is amazing how much they can do considering how small they are. But don’t be fooled: They get terrific results for the majority of kids treated.

There are two different kinds of expanders. Depending on the situation, a child might need one type or may use both together:

1. Upper Jaw Expanders

Upper jaw expanders anchor to the child’s back molars. Using a special key, the attached screws can be adjusted to widen in increments of about a quarter of a millimeter. They are designed to take advantage of the fact that, as kids grow, there’s a gap between the two halves of the roofs of their mouths.

2. Lower Jaw Expanders

Lower jaw expanders are a bit different. There is no gap in the lower jaw, so they have to take another approach. Instead of exerting gentle pressure on the jaw, they push a little bit against teeth leaning inward. This gradually moves the teeth into a straighter position, opening up more space.

Expanders shouldn’t be confused with clear plastic aligners. Aligners are an alternative to braces made using a 3D model of the inside of the mouth. Adults and fashion-conscious teens prefer them because they are very subtle. They do not have anything to do with expanding the palate.

How Do Orthodontic Expanders Feel?

All of this might sound kind of strange when you’re hearing it for the first time. But expanders have been around just as long as braces, and they are very safe. The big question on everyone’s mind – and that includes kids! – is usually this: What do they feel like?

As with braces, kids adapt to their expanders very quickly. That said, they have to be adjusted to be at the right level. Upper jaw expanders can be uncomfortable if the screws are not in the right position. If discomfort persists, it’s a wise idea to get in touch with your Port Orange orthodontist.

It takes a few days to get used to talking with expanders in place. Depending on the child’s age, you might notice lisping or drooling. This usually goes away within a few days and it is never permanent.

What If You Notice a Gap After Using an Expander?

Because the front teeth are so prominent – not just in kids, but people of any age – it is easier to notice if they change position. When an expander is being used, it’s not out of the ordinary to see the two front teeth seem to separate a tiny bit more. Luckily, this is actually a good sign.

As the palate expands, all of the teeth are moving. Over the course of treatment, they will spread into a healthier and stronger alignment. If a tooth gap persists long into treatment, it may be a sign that your child needs braces. Dr. Beauchamp will help you make the right decision.

Teeth should never hurt, sting, or feel sensitive as a result of this natural movement. And any gaps that do develop will respond to prompt treatment. So, there is really nothing to worry about – but be sure the little ones are brushing and flossing so plaque doesn’t develop between teeth.

Depending on how long your expanders are expected to be in place, your orthodontist will schedule several follow-up appointments. Be sure to attend all of them! At each appointment, progress will be checked and new x-rays may be taken. Expanders are adjusted to improve outcomes and minimize gaps.

Caring for Orthodontic Expanders

Luckily, caring for expanders is easy. It just means brushing every day! It’s best to brush in the morning, before bed, and after meals. Be sure that the expander itself is getting brushed, not just the teeth. This keeps bacteria from staying on it.

If you want to be extra sure that the devices stay completely clean, you can also use a syringe filled with water to clean them off in a more precise way. Sometimes, kids need help with all of this. Check in with them and give them a hand if they need it so they won’t get discouraged!

The foods a child eats can affect their expanders. Just as with braces, it’s best to avoid sticky foods. The same goes for hard foods that require a lot of bite force to chew, such as nuts and apples. Check out any candy carefully before allowing it, and don’t let kids chew on ice while they’re under treatment.

Sometimes, children can get into the habit of chewing on other objects, like their nails or even the ends of pencils. This is especially troublesome for expanders, so keep an eye out. Alternative healthy snacks can help them curb their cravings for the kind of candy that won’t mix well with expanders or braces.

For Expanders, Braces, and More, Trust Your Port Orange Orthodontist

No matter what your family needs, Dr. Beauchamp at Beauchamp Orthodontics is here to help.

Along with her team, Dr. Beauchamp has created a welcoming orthodontics office that’s friendly and fun for the whole family. She will be glad to help your young ones get a strong start with orthodontic care to help them stay healthy as they grow.

Set your consultation today to get started.


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