Children don't tend to have braces fitted until their permanent teeth erupt. However, orthodontists like to see kids before this point to check for potential problems that might need bracing or other orthodontic treatment.
Sometimes, dentists recommend an early orthodontic review. Your child's teeth may show signs of crowding, or they may have a problem with bite alignment. While your child is too young for braces, your orthodontist may suggest that they fit a palatal expander now. What are palatal expanders and how do they work? Will this mean your child won't need braces later?
What Are Palatal Expanders?
Palatal expanders are orthodontic frames that fit over your child's palate in the upper jaw. Expanders are attached to teeth on either side of the palate. Their aim is to widen the jaw by making the palate bigger. Once the expander is fitted, it gradually encourages bones to separate and move so that the palate becomes bigger over time. To do this, you regularly turn a key on the frame to tighten the expander by tiny amounts.
Palatal expanders are often used on children who are likely to have tooth crowding problems later. By making the jaw bigger, the expander creates more room for teeth to come through. Widening the jaw also helps fix some bite problems.
Will Your Child Need Braces As Well?
Sometimes, a palatal expander is enough to fix your child's problem. For example, if the expander is used to deal with crowding, and it creates enough room for your child's permanent teeth to erupt correctly, then they may not need braces later. Sometimes, palatal expansion is the first stage in a longer orthodontic treatment plan. Your child may need braces later, but not for a while.
This treatment is easier and less painful for young children whose palatal bones haven't fused into place yet. So, your orthodontist may want to expand your child's jaw now before bones finish developing to make things easier down the line. For example, an expander can widen a jaw to make it big enough for all its teeth. However, there's no guarantee that these teeth will be evenly spaced or come through correctly. In this case, your child is likely to need braces at a later stage.
Even if your child needs braces fitted later, a palatal expander may shorten the time they need to wear braces. If you get some orthodontic preparation work done in advance, your child's teeth may need less work. To find out more about what to expect when your child wears a palatal expander, talk to your orthodontist.