When Is the Best Time for Expanders?

By the time your child is a teenager, they will have all their adult teeth. Unfortunately, there may not be enough room for them all, and they become overcrowded, misaligned, and crooked. 

One solution is to extract a tooth or two to make room for the rest. But there’s another option — expanders. Expanders place gentle, sustained force on the jawbones to spread them out and increase their ability to host a full set of adult teeth that are well-aligned and straight.

Our team of specialists here at LM Orthodontics can tell early on if your child’s jaw is too narrow to accommodate a full mouth of adult teeth. And we may help them avoid the need for braces later in life by making a correction to the jaw while it’s still developing. Here’s why timing is critical when it comes to expanders.

Development of your child’s jaw

When your baby is born, their jaw is half the size it will be when they’re fully grown. By the time they’re about two years old, we can tell if they have a crossbite (upper teeth fit inside of lower teeth) or a narrow jaw that will cause overcrowding later.

Rapid growth occurs over the next four years, and by the time your kid is six, their jaw will be about 80% developed. At age 16, their jaw will reach its maximum size, shape, and width.

Things that affect the developing jaw

During this stage of early development, your child’s jaw and palate are still forming, which means that the cartilage is soft and somewhat malleable. For this reason, it’s important to give your child’s oral cavity the best chance of forming into an optimal shape and position. Here are a few things that can negatively impact this process:

These habits all influence the way the tongue functions and the jaw develops. In some cases, these lead to speech and swallowing problems, as well as crossbites and misaligned teeth.

Habits aren’t the only forces that can change things; we can also proactively impact the developing jaw in a positive way. Whether your child was born with a narrow jaw or certain habits have caused some issues, during this critical time of formation, our team can widen the space with expanders.

When to get expanders

The best time to get expanders to correct and restore your child’s jaw is before the bones and cartilage have hardened. For most people, that happens around age 16. 

At LM Orthodontics, we recommend fitting your child for expanders before the two halves of their palate (the roof of their mouth) have fused together. This is slightly different for everybody and generally happens a little sooner for girls (12-13) than boys (13-14)

Expanders can still be used after these ages, but they may not be as effective.

The earlier you bring your child to see us, the better. We can evaluate what’s happening inside their oral cavity, determine if there’s a crossbite, crowding, or impacted teeth, and also let you know whether the upper jaw, lower jaw, or both need to be corrected. 

If you suspect that your child has a narrow jaw or a crossbite issue, or you just want to put your mind at ease and make sure they don’t, give us a call to schedule a consultation, and please be sure to read our COVID-19 policy as well. 

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