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), and made our initial consultation appointment.
In the hopes that maybe my experience can help someone else, I thought I’d share. Disclaimer: I’m definitely not a dental professional!
I’m simply 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.
Palatal Expander Cost
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.
Your orthodontist’s office will be able to give you pricing. Our dental insurance allowed us to apply our $1000 lifetime benefit to this service, so that helped a bit.
We are going to get no help at all from insurance when it’s time for his full mouth of braces, unfortunately. Your insurance may be different.
How much do palatal expanders cost?
The pricing we got from our doctor include all of the ‘phase 1′ treatment: appointments, the expander, the few braces to pull those top teeth into alignment after the expander created space for them, and the retainer to hold it all in place until we were ready for phase 2, or a full set of braces.
Most orthodontists’ offices provide payment plan options. You may get a small discount, 5% or so, for paying in full upfront.
We had the option to do that, pay a larger hunk of money upfront and then smaller monthly payments for 12 months, or evenly divide it up over the course of a year.
In 2016, the fee for Early Orthodontic Treatment for our son was $2495. Our insurance covered $1000 of that, so we were responsible for $1495.
We had to pay that within one year, which was the ballpark duration of treatment. We opted to pay $307 down, and then $99 per month for 12 months.
Palatal Expander Age
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. But it was smooth sailing very soon after so keep the faith, parents.
Are palatal expanders painful?
Thankfully my son didn’t have ANY pain or discomfort which was a blessing. Many kids do experience pressure.
Our biggest problem was that my son really had trouble figuring out how to eat anything without getting it stuck in his expander…which made him sick.
I was pretty sure he was going to live on pudding and ice cream for the next 6 months.
For those of you reading this who are currently thinking you’re going to have to have this thing removed or your kid is going to starve, please believe me when I say this too shall pass.
The beginning is ugly, but it only lasts a few days. LOTS of kids get through this and yours will, too.
What can you eat with a palatal expander?
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.
Palatal expander side effects
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).
Palatal expander 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 my son, 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.
We then 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 have your child tip their head way back and open wide, and then put this spoke into a little hole in the middle of the expander, push down, and you’re done. It’s very easy and takes 10 seconds or less.
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 will go on the front 4 teeth to align them.
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 (even when you think they never will) and pretty soon you’ll be hearing how weird their mouths feel when they get the expander removed.
Palatal Expander Before and After
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.
Do you need braces after a palatal expander?
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. There’s no fee for those visits for us. They are basically just monitoring him to catch him as soon as he’s ready for the next phase.
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!