Cheryl Zaidan uses her experience with palate expanders to share tips and tricks on how to deal with the necessary discomforts.
The Dreaded 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 will slow 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 are 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 an 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!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Questions & Answers
Question: How do I get food out of my expander at school?
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Answer: Try rinsing your mouth with a disinfecting mouthwash like Listerine to get rid of trapped foods. Keep a small bottle handy in your desk or locker.
Question: Will the pain from having a palate expander ever going to go away?
Answer: Unfortunately, palate expanders are uncomfortable, and sometimes you may experience pain. However, if the pain is non-stop or unbearable, please speak to your ortho right away and let them know!
Question: How do you swallow food with an expander?
Answer: There's no exact trick but it does take a while to get used to. Stick to liquids and very soft foods in the beginning. Be sure to chew your food thoroughly or cut it up into small bites. It's easy to choke sometimes with the expander in. Also avoid all hard/chewy foods for right now.
Question: How do you get food out of a palate expander ?
Answer: You need to be gentle when removing food. If brushing isn't working, try a Waterpik. The stream of water will dislodge food from areas where it gets trapped.
Question: Why do I have to wait a week to turn my expander?
Answer: The expander needs time to work. Following your dentist's instructions as to when to turn the expander will ensure you get the most out of it with the least amount of discomfort.
Question: Does the mark of the palate expander stay on your tongue forever?
Answer: No, your tongue will survive. However, if there's a great deal of pain or any blood, please let your orthodontist know immediately. In the meantime, it's a great idea to use dental wax on the sharper edges of the expander for comfort.
Question: My daughter’s expander has broken her top molar where the band is attached. Is this normal?
Answer: I think you should consult your orthodontist as quickly as possible on this one. If you can't get in for an appointment, please call them and let them know of the situation.
Question: Are there alternatives to the palate expander?
Answer: The expander serves a very specific purpose. Therefore if your orthodontist says it's part of the plan he or she has for you, it's a necessity. No other device can do what it does.
Question: How long do palatal expanders have to stay on?
Answer: That is up to the orthodontist and depends on how well you progress, your unique situation, etc. However, the norm is about 4-6 months.
Question: When I eat, I feel like 80% of my food just disappears in my expander (between the roof of my mouth And the plate). I can’t spit or swallow either. Do you have any tips on the movement of my tongue that could help?
Answer: I don't think the tongue would help in that situation. I would say try and eat soft foods. They're easier to swallow and won't get as stuck much. To be honest, you still will get food stuck in there but the harder the food, the more it will stick. Also to get food out and to stop bacteria from spreading, use a water pick.
Question: I just got an expander and besides the constant pain, I’ve been having the usual trouble. Even with my back teeth chewing sucks, and my lisp is inevitable. But my classmates are making fun of me because of the way I talk now and because my tongue is always poking at it. What do I do?
Answer: The lisp is pretty common, but practice talking. You might have to move your mouth wide when speaking in an unnatural way at first, but practice in a mirror.
Cheryl Zaidan (author) on January 13, 2020:
Take otc pain kilkers like ibuprofen. For drool? Personally i kept a tisdue handy and wiped. It does die down.
Natalie on January 04, 2020:
Hi, so I'm getting an expander soon. I'm just wondering, how do I manage the first few days of drooling and pain and stuff like that?
Bella on October 09, 2019:
I got braces and an expander at the same time and it is hard to eat anything, including soup
Ayana on July 01, 2019:
Hi could you get a migraine with your expander?
Maurcello on February 21, 2019:
Hi I'm recommending to eat with your back teeth and get the food to your throat with your tongue, It really helps!
Cheryl Zaidan (author) on August 18, 2017:
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.
bob on August 18, 2017:
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 (author) on August 17, 2017:
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!
Mike on August 17, 2017:
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 (author) on August 16, 2017:
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.
Mike on August 16, 2017:
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 (author) on June 22, 2017:
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!
Melissa on June 21, 2017:
Hi, my daughters tongue is swollen from the expander. Any recommendations?
Nupur on January 25, 2017:
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!
Goldie on January 05, 2017:
Thank you. I just got my pallet in and thanks to this, I don't have to worry!
Cynthia Zirkwitz from Vancouver Island, Canada on September 01, 2014:
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