Expanders Explained: The Power of Early Detection

At Dr. Matt Orthodontics, we’re passionate believers in the power of early orthodontic detection and prevention. Anywhere between five and seven years old is the ideal time to conduct an initial assessment, catch warning signs, and swiftly remedy certain issues before they require more invasive, costly procedures to correct. So even if your child’s teeth appear normal, there are sometimes problems lurking beneath the surface that aren’t immediately obvious or visible.

Early evaluation is especially essential if your child has a narrow upper jaw, high palate, crossbite and/or lack of space for permanent teeth – all clear indicators that they’re a candidate for expansion. These issues are much easier to correct at a younger age, before the bones fuse together around puberty. If you wait until your child is 12 or 13 to schedule an orthodontist visit, it may be too late for a traditional expander, and could potentially require more invasive surgical procedures.

Given the level of specialized expertise required, it’s essential to ensure an orthodontist is monitoring your child’s dental growth and development, in lieu of a dentist or parent. While dentists are trained to evaluate the overall health of the teeth and mouth, orthodontists specialize in a proper bite, and the way the teeth and jaws develop and function.

Warning Signs to Keep in Mind:

  • Mouth Shape. Normally, the upper jaw is slightly wider than the lower jaw. If the upper teeth or two front teeth come together in a V shape (versus a more typical U shape) or the palate is highly vaulted, that’s a strong indication the upper jaw is too narrow and should be evaluated for expansion.
  • Crowded Canine Teeth. If the canine teeth are crowded out of position, this is a sign your child may benefit from upper jaw expansion. The canine teeth have to travel the longest distance in the mouth, so they’re typically the last to arrive. As a result, there sometimes isn’t enough space for them to grow and develop properly. When this occurs, the canine teeth become misdirected and may have trouble coming in properly (if at all).
  • Crossbite. A crossbite, more specifically a posterior crossbite, is another common red flag. This occurs when the upper jaw is smaller than the lower jaw. When our upper jaw is too narrow, the lower jaw is often prone to deviate to one side or the other. Left untreated during the growth years, this deviation may cause the lower jaw to grow asymmetrically. Sometimes, instead of a crossbite, the lower teeth will try to correct the problem, which causes them to lean towards the tongue.

What to Expect if Your Child is a Candidate for an Expander:

The expander is attached to the upper back teeth and goes across the roof of the mouth. During treatment, your child will not remove the expander or need to worry about how often to wear it, as it will be placed and removed in the office. The expansion screw slowly expands the upper jaw and gradually spreads it apart. From there, new bone growth fills in the space created. Once the expander is inserted, Dr. Matt will prescribe the specific number of turns and recommended frequency (for example: one turn every day for 21 days) and provide step-by-step instructions for at-home care, including details about what to expect, etc. We’ll recommended your child come into the clinic for a follow-up visit every 2-4 weeks to assess their progress. The expander is typically in place 6-10 months (depending on your child’s unique treatment plan) to allow time for the new bone growth to occur and help stabilize the expansion.

The moral of the story: there’s often more than meets the eye, yet if we work together, we can spot the early warning signs and intercept problems before they arise.