At his last dentist appointment, my son’s dentist said it was time to take my little thumb sucker to the orthodontist. He was going to need an expander. I had a vague idea of what this meant but definitely wanted more information.
So I came home, researched some local orthodontists (friends’ recommendations are definitely valuable here), made our initial consultation appointment, and Googled what to expect. In the hopes that maybe my experience can help someone else, I thought I’d share. Note that I’m definitely not a dental professional! I’m just a mom hoping to ease any fears you might have and answer some questions.
We found a really kid-friendly orthodontist, which I’m guessing many of them are, but this was a big plus. My son is only 7 years old and immediately felt at ease when we walked through the door. Your dentist and friends who have kids with braces can probably help you find a great practice.
The initial consultation for us was FREE (seriously, not a penny) and included a panoramic x-ray of the mouth, a bunch of photos of his smile, and a chat with the orthodontist about what his game plan would be for my son. This included the breakdown of costs and payment plan options. So I left that day knowing exactly what to expect in the coming months both for my child and my bank account. 😉
My orthodontist told us that they like to see kids for the first time between ages 7-9 for an initial consult and to get that big x-ray. That helps them know if there are missing teeth, extra teeth, etc. and gives them a baseline. Even though her dentist didn’t refer my daughter to the orthodontist for any treatment, I did take her in for a consult because, hey, it was free and I’d like to know if he sees anything the dentist doesn’t. And she is in good shape, doesn’t need anything and can come back in one year for a re-check. Three cheers for free consultations!
When we left the initial consult appointment, we had 4 more appointments scheduled. I can’t say if this is the procedure for all orthodontists, but this is how ours went and each of these appointments was spaced one week apart:
Appointment 1: Spacers were inserted. These are little rubber bands they wedge between the back molars to create a space for the bands to go which will eventually hold the expander in place. They’ll ask your child to refrain from eating anything too chewy or sticky (think Laffy Taffy, caramel, Starburst, etc) that might pull those bands out.
Appointment 2: Spacers come out. Metal bands are fitted around the molars to get just the right size for your child’s mouth. This is also when they took the impression of his mouth, which means he had to ‘bite’ into a hunk of Silly Putty-like stuff to create a mold of the shape of his mouth. Kinda gross and gaggy for him, but it wasn’t that big of a deal. We left that day with nothing in his mouth.
Appointment 3: The spacers go back in, same as week 1. Back to the no-sticky-food-diet, too!
Appointment 4: This is when the expander goes in. This is a custom made appliance (that’s what the mold taken at appointment 2 was used for) so it should fit just perfectly. And it did! They’ll test it first to make sure it fits, then glue it in place. This is also when they’ll show Mom and/or Dad how to turn the ‘key’ to actually use the expander to widen the palate. The no-sticky-food-diet continues and they’ll give you a sheet of safe foods and foods to avoid.
After The Expander Is In
I’m not going to lie here. The first few days were rough for us. Thankfully my son didn’t have ANY pain or discomfort which was a blessing. But he really had trouble figuring out how to eat anything without getting it stuck in his expander…which make him sick. I was pretty sure he was going to live on pudding and ice cream for the next 6 months.
Here are my top 3 tips for being prepared BEFORE you come home with the expander in:
- Have some children’s pain reliever on hand. Many kids do experience pressure or discomfort the first few days.
- Stock up on soft foods. The ‘weird’ feeling in the mouth is really mitigated by ice cream 3x a day. Just sayin.’ Pudding, soup, Jell-O, mashed potatoes, and yogurt all worked well for us.
- Get a Waterpik. Our main issue getting our son to eat was that he was totally grossed out by food getting stuck in his expander. I finally put my foot down and made him finish whatever he was eating, and THEN we cleaned out the expander with the Waterpik (which is actually pretty fun!) as opposed to cleaning it after every bite.
We had some drooling going on the first few days until he got used to having his expander in his mouth. Just encourage them to slurp it up once in a while (I know, this whole thing can be kind of gross for about a week).
Turning the Key
This is what the key looks like, and they will show you at the office how to turn it and tell you how often. For us, I had to turn it once per day for 14 days, then go back for a check to make sure I was doing it well. Then we got prescribed 14 more turns. When I first heard the word ‘key’ this is definitely not what I pictured. It will all make sense when they show you in the office. You basically put this in a little hole in the middle of the expander, push down, and you’re done. It’s very easy, trust me.
My son will wear this appliance in his mouth for about 6 months, but all of the turning gets done in the first month. The rest of the time is meant to hold everything in place until his other teeth come in. Then….braces.
How We’re Doing Now
My guy has had his expander in for almost a month now and he’s doing great! Really the first 5 days or so were the most challenging for us with getting him to try to eat, but he’s completely figured that out and rarely uses the Waterpik at all anymore. He can eat without getting anything stuck in his expander. Hallelujah!
Hope you have found some helpful info here! If you hit a rough patch, which we did early on, hang in there. Kids do get used to this and pretty soon you’ll be hearing how weird their mouths feel when they get the expander removed! Good luck!
Two years later, this post is getting decent traffic and a lot of comments. I’m so glad it’s been helpful for those of you that are in this palatal expander boat. I promise, it gets better.
I probably should have come back earlier with an update, but I’ll tell you where we’re at now. My son wore his expander for maybe 6 months, and before it came out he got braces on his four front teeth to pull them down and into alignment. They didn’t stay on very long before they came out and he got a retainer.
Two years later, he’s still wearing the retainer just to sleep in, and he goes to the orthodontist every 3 months for a check up. He has two more baby teeth to lose (at age 10, they tell me that is a little ahead of schedule), and sometime in the next year he’ll get a full mouth of braces which will likely need to be worn for two years.
Scroll up and look at that before pic. Can you believe the difference in his smile?! Orthodontists are magic. Hang in there, parents. It is SO worth it!