When a child’s milk teeth break, they are excited about getting a visit from the tooth fairy. On the other hand though, their parents are concerned about whether their child’s new teeth with grow normally. While most children do not go through troubles getting their permanent teeth, children who have narrow jaws can experience trouble. Not only could their mouth hurt due to lack of space in the jaw for accommodating the new teeth, there could also be overcrowding and even misalignment. While braces are used to correct alignment errors, a braces expander is put in place for the teeth to have enough space in the jaw.
What is a Braces Expander?
A braces expander or a palatal expander is an orthodontic treatment which helps widen the palate circumference to increase the space in the jaw for accommodating teeth without crowding them. The expander can be used in the upper jaw or the lower jaw depending on the nature of misalignment. The treatment can be used in adults and in children. However, as children’s bones are growing, it will be easier to expand their palate as opposed to that of an adult.
The expander consists of two halves which are joined in the center with a screw. It fits onto the teeth with custom-made metal rings. The device works by turning the screw in the center a little bit every day with a special key. It creates tension on the two palate bones and pushes them apart gradually. Once the desired expansion level is achieved, the device is left in the mouth for a few more months for the bone to fully develop and close the gap made.
When to Use Braces Expander
A palate expander helps with a host of orthodontic issues, especially in children when they are beginning to get their permanent teeth. A palatal expander for the upper jaw helps stretch the bone and cartilage to expand the child’s palate and prevents the teeth from overcrowding or a crossbite developing. The expanders are attached to the molars with rings in the upper jaw and have a built in expansion screw that can separate the cartilage into the new shape over the course of a few weeks to a few months, depending on the severity of the situation.
An expander for the lower jaw helps move only the teeth as there is no cartilage in the lower jaw to move. The teeth will be either pushed inwards or outwards, depending on the direction the teeth need to be moved in to be aligned with the upper teeth.
What Conditions Does it Treat
There are three main conditions that arise out of a cramped jaw which a palatal expander helps in treating. These can all be treated in a span of three to six months. The expander is either permanently attached to the mouth or can be removed during eating and activities like playing sports.
In a crossbite, the upper jaw is too narrow in comparison to the lower teeth. The upper jaw consists of two separate bones fused together in the center. In some cases the two bones don’t fuse together at a normal pace and the fusing happens slower than the time it takes for teeth to grow out. This results in the molars and premolars from the upper jaw going behind the teeth in the lower jaw when the mouth is closed. For this condition, an upper jaw expander is required.
When the jaw is narrow and cannot accommodate the new set of permanent teeth, the teeth can be pushed and rubbed together due to overcrowding. This also requires for the upper jaw to be widened for it to have sufficient space for the new teeth. Overcrowding of teeth can also be a hereditary condition. This can cause difficulty in cleaning the teeth and develop into tooth decay in the long run, if left unchecked.
A narrow mouth, crooked teeth and a high palate are all symptoms of mouth breathing. The intake of oxygen through the mouth instead of the nose indicates that the tongue is not correctly supporting the airways to stay open. This results in the intake of unfiltered air and unhealthy bacteria. Using a palate expander can help stop mouth breathing and improve the overall health.
Aftercare of Treatment
Care for a braces expander is similar to that for braces. While brushing your teeth, care must be taken to also brush the expander to ensure no food particles are stuck to it. It is best to use an antimicrobial mouthwash to ensure they are thoroughly cleaned. If the expander is removable, it still requires a thorough cleaning. Sticky foods and very soft foods will need to be avoided as they can get stuck in the expander, especially if the expander is permanently fixed in the mouth.
Tightening the key may induce a little pain on the teeth, but it will subside after a few minutes. Like braces, an expander can also cause an impediment to speech and while eating initially but these will get easier after the first few days. A gap between the teeth is nothing out of the ordinary as making space between the teeth will allow for the teeth to grow out properly.
Cost of Expanders
Expanders need to be worn for a short duration of time so they end up working out to be more economical than braces. The entire treatment with an expander can be covered in $2,000 to $3,000. Some insurance providers can cover either part or the entire cost of the expander.
As a child transitions from their milk teeth to permanent teeth, there can be a few complications along the way. The jaws and palate are still forming till a child hits puberty and often the palate can develop at a slower rate than the new teeth. This can result in a narrow jaw and lead to complications like overcrowding of the teeth or a crossbite where the teeth are not properly aligned. To correct this, a braces expander can be put inside the mouth to help the palate cartilage expand, thereby expanding the jaw.
The expander can be permanent or removable and it has a screw in the middle which is turned to help the jaws move apart gradually. The entire treatment takes a few months and helps the jaws to expand to allow the new teeth to grow normally.