How to Live with a Palate Expander
So you've just been fitted with a palate expander and you think you'll never be able to eat or speak normally again. Never fear! A beautiful smile takes time and while the expander may cause some discomfort and problems, there are a few tips and tricks to make living with your expander easier.
Expanders are used to widen the upper maxillary arch (the upper jawbone). This may be a long and lengthy process and discomfort is unfortunately, part of the game. Some of the effects you may notice while wearing the expander are: a tendency to drool, problems with eating, a prominent lisp, and headaches and soreness. Sounds sexy doesn't it? But rest assured, all of these things can be dealt with and the results will be far worth it. Let's look at the problems one at a time.
Dealing with Drool
Believe it or not, this is the easy one as increased saliva is a temporary condition and should go away after a week or two. If it continues, contact your orthodontist, an adjustment may be in order. You will probably still continue to drool quite a bit during sleep as your jaw is most relaxed at that time. This doesn't go away as quickly but slows down upon prolonged wear of the expander.
Learning to Eat
So you've started wearing the expander and you think it's going to be a steady diet of soup and jello from now on. Although this may be true for the first week as your mouth adjusts to a different way of chewing, you won't have to give up your favorite foods forever. After the first week, or even the first couple of days if you feel better, introduce soft but solid foods into your diet. Soon you will find that by chewing on your back teeth, you can eat almost normally.
For slightly tougher foods such as meat, cut the food into tiny pieces as though you were feeding a small child. Chewing larger pieces may make it hard to swallow or cause choking. If you can remove your expander, you may be tempted to take it out when eating. This is a definite no-no as the expander is actually activated by chewing forces and eating with it on actually increases its effectiveness. And the goal is to be finished with the expander as quickly as possible, isn't it?
Losing the Lisp
This is usually one of the most problematic side effects of wearing the device and all expander wearers have had to deal with the dreaded lisp. This stems from changed tongue placement. The tongue is not able to hit the roof of the mouth and this causes some words to come out sounding slightly strange.As an experiment, with your palate expander in, say your vowels out loud: A E I O U. Sounds pretty good doesn't it? Now try these consonants: S, G, X. Not quite as pretty. While there really is no way around the lisp, you'll find that as your mouth gets accustomed to the expander, your speech will become clearer. For some this takes longer than others and the lisp may never go away completely.
To combat the speech issue, try the following exercise:
Looking at yourself in a mirror with your appliance on, say the following sentence: "I can't believe this actually works". Notice where the speech tends to lisp, towards the end of the sentence. Now open your lips wide, as though there was a tennis ball in your mouth. Repeat the sentence opening your mouth wide after every syllable. I (open), can (open) not (open) etc. You'll notice that the sentence comes out a little clearer. Practice this every day with words and letters that give you problems. It may look silly in the beginning, but with mirror practice, you can see how creating more room in your mouth can cause a vast improvement in your speech pattern. Finally, don't be afraid to ask friends and loved ones about how your speech changes and ask them to note any improvements. Chances are you sound better than you think you do!
Putting up with Pain and Discomfort
As the expander moves bone, some pain and discomfort is a given. This is usually most prominent after initially wearing the device, but often comes back after the expander has been adjusted.To deal with the pain, use a over-the-counter pain reliever such as aspirin or ibuprofen. While both relieve the pain, ibuprofen is preferable because of its anti-inflammatory properties.
You may notice swelling in addition to the pain. To lessen the swelling, use a hot compress or 'pain pack' on the face for 10 minutes. If you don't have one, you can just put a washcloth under the hot tap for a minute and press into the sore areas of your face.
When to Contact your Orthodontist
Although it is normal to feel some pain, any sharp pain or bleeding should immediately be reported to your orthodontist. Also note that at no time should you feel scraping or abrasions against the gum line. This is not a normal side effect of the expander and indicates that either the device has to be adjusted, or something else is wrong.
You may have to live with your palate expander for weeks or even years so follow these tips to make sure that it doesn't interfere with your everyday activities and overall well-being. Just remind yourself that it's worth it all for a great smile! Good luck!