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How to Live With a Palate Expander

Updated on October 19, 2017
Cheryl Zaidan profile image

Cheryl Zaidan uses her experience with palate expanders to share tips and tricks on how to deal with the necessary discomforts.

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.

Be Patient

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!

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    • Cheryl Zaidan profile image
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      Cheryl Zaidan 2 months ago

      Ugh, I'm sorry that's happening to you. I haven't seen that issue before so please let your orthodontist know asap. Your expander might not be working the way it should and you don't want to set yourself back! Please let everyone knows what he or she says as it might help other people.

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      bob 2 months ago

      Hi Cheryl every time i turn my expander it always goes back to the previous amount of turns so how do i resolve this?

    • Cheryl Zaidan profile image
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      Cheryl Zaidan 2 months ago

      That's awesome news, glad you got some relief! And yes, a note to everyone, a palate expander may be uncomfortable, true, but if you're experiencing swelling, blistering or severe pain get yourself to the orthodontist's office immediately. Thanks Mike!

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      Mike 2 months ago

      Just to provide an update, my orthodontist was great in getting me an emergency appointment at short notice this morning, they adjusted the positioning of the hinge that sits against the jaw line to be higher up to relieve pressure on the tongue when swallowing which has reduced the pain from 9 to 3, I think once the ulcer that developed fully heals I should be fine now.

      For anyone getting any appliance fitted please bear in mind that symptoms like the one i've described may take more than 24 hours after installation to manifest, if they do request an emergency appointment with your orthodontist to get it addressed asap.

      Regarding dental was I was provided with a supplies as part of my care package which has been great for the bracket wires however not so much with the expander hinge as it was effectively a 2mm protrusion jabbing the tongue each time I swallowed, to explain why this was happening the left side of my upper jaw line is slightly lower than the right which caused the appliance to not lie flush in the roof of my mouth.

    • Cheryl Zaidan profile image
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      Cheryl Zaidan 2 months ago

      I'm not sure about blood blisters but DEFINITELY talk to your ortho and let me know of this issue right away! One thing that really helped me was a dental friendly wax that you could put on the sharper points or edges of the expander. It really saved the inside of my mouth from the scrapes/imprints that I was starting to get! Please ask your orthodontist about this. I was able to buy it over the counter but they may have samples at the ortho's office.

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      Mike 2 months ago

      Hi Cheryl, just echoing Melissa's comment on her daughters tongue being swollen, i've had my expander fitted for just over 24 hours and i've already developed bruising on the back of my tongue where it presses up against the hinge of the expander at the back of the mouth when swallowing or speech requiring movement of the tongue making contact with the appliance, needless to say it's made speech and swallowing discomforting enough to be a severe distraction at work and making tasks such as drinking a glass of water quite painful.

      I'll be contacting my orthodontist tomorrow to see if any adjustments can be made but i'm dreading being told to just muscle through it and use dental gel to moderate the pain, my orthodontist did comment that expanders have been known to "imprint" on the tongue but at what point does imprint become "bruise moving towards blood blister"? it just doesn't sound right to me that the tongue should get bruised and a reliance placed on scar tissue to continue to take the contact with the appliance when the discomfort is having a detrimental impact at work.

    • Cheryl Zaidan profile image
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      Cheryl Zaidan 4 months ago

      Melissa I would definitely take her back to your orthodontist and explain the situation. I haven't seen that issue so it's best to contact them right away to see what can be done. Best of luck to your daughter!

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      Melissa 4 months ago

      Hi, my daughters tongue is swollen from the expander. Any recommendations?

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      Nupur 8 months ago

      Thank you so much for a well written article. My daughter just got her expancer two days back and this information helped a lot. Thanks again!

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      Goldie 9 months ago

      Thank you. I just got my pallet in and thanks to this, I don't have to worry!

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      Cynthia 3 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      Hi Cheryl-- Welcome to Hubpages... this is a well-written hub about a subject that I'm sure affects a number of people today trying to juggle busy lives with a sort of "built-in" discomfort that they are hopeful will end well. Sometimes a couple more images or a youtube video (or better yet, a video of your own making) enhance wellness/health/cosmetic articles such as this one. I'm voting you up and sharing your hub! All the best, Cynthia