Oh, the dread palate expander. There’s not one single patient who’s excited or thankful to have one. It’s big, bulky, and uncomfortable. I’m sure you’re wondering if it hurts, how soon you’ll get used to it, and how to eat with a palate expander.
I’ve placed a lot of expanders and I can say from experience that most of my patients, even the little ones, cope very well with wearing this expansion device, and you’ll get the hang of it too. It usually takes a couple of weeks before you get fully accustomed to it.
We have multiple articles dedicated to the palate expander on this website, but today I want to focus on how and what to eat while wearing an expander. We’ve got some meal ideas in there too, so keep reading!
Disclaimer: I’m a licensed orthodontist on a quest to make information on dental braces accessible and easy to understand. However, I’m not YOUR doctor, so please check with your orthodontist before doing anything to your braces, and don’t be afraid to ask them any questions you might have.
How do you swallow with an expander in your mouth?
When first getting a palate expander, the first thing you’ll notice is how much saliva your mouth is producing all of the sudden. Don’t worry, it’s perfectly normal. This is the body’s way of dealing with a foreign object in your mouth.
Some kids worry that they won’t be able to swallow all that excess saliva, and I often have to talk them through swallowing by having them take slow sips of water.
When we swallow food, our tongue usually needs to press on top of the roof of the mouth. But since you have the expander placed on your upper jaw, the tongue needs to get used to a different movement so you can properly swallow. It takes a few minutes of practice and I suggest you start with smoothies and soft foods.
Can you take your palatal expander out to eat?
No, if we’re talking about the bonded and banded palatal expanders, they’re cemented on your teeth and the last thing we want is for them to come off.
Instead, you should focus on soft healthy foods and good oral hygiene for the time being and remember that it’s all temporary. You’ll be digging into your crunchy snacks and popcorn soon enough.
How to eat with a palate expander
Chewing with a palate expander can be a bit tricky, but don’t worry, it’s not impossible. As with wearing braces, your teeth won’t meet all the way because of the bite interference the expander usually creates, and that’s totally normal.
If you have a banded expander, the bands and cement will lift your bite a little bit and you’ll feel like you can only bite on those two teeth. In a couple of weeks, your molars will move as the palate expands, causing your bite to change even more.
But don’t worry, you can still eat with an imperfect bite, and your teeth don’t need to touch all the way in order to chew the food enough to swallow it. As with braces, taking small bites out of your food is the best strategy.
Bonded expanders are a little more tricky, that’s why most patients dread them. If you have a bonded expander, the acrylic blocks will open your bite dramatically, making it harder to eat.
You have my sympathies, and please remember that you only need to wear the expander for 6 months on average! As much as you hate it now, you’ll love your new broad smile.
To make eating easier, you’ll need to be mindful of a few things. Firstly, you should cut your food into small pieces. The smaller the pieces, the easier it will be for you to chew and swallow.
Secondly, you could blend your food or cook soft-textured foods. Smoothies, pureed soups, and mashed potatoes are great options. They’re easy to prepare, nutritious, and won’t put much pressure on your expander.
It’s also essential to avoid sticky or tangly foods like caramel, taffy or even chewing gum. These foods can loosen your appliance and reverse the progress you’ve made, which is the last thing you want.
Sticky foods are difficult as they get into all the nooks and crannies of your device, and they can even block to screw, so more reason not to consume them.
Leafy greens that haven’t been cut into smaller pieces can become tangled around the arms of your expander, which is a pain to clean. Stringy meat can also cause the same effect, so it’s best to choose minced meat for your meals.
If you’re a parent, you should be extra careful when feeding your child with a palate expander for the first week. Some food textures and bite sizes can be a choking hazard, so it’s essential to incorporate them slowly back into your child’s diet.
Parents should also assist by helping clean their child’s palate expander since they have better visibility and skill than their younger child. For this purpose, it’s best to use interdental brushes, both straight and angled to get into all the nooks and crannies.
How do you eat with an expander without food getting stuck?
Unfortunately, there’s really no way to eat with a palatal device without getting food stuck underneath. It all depends on how deep your roof of the mouth is and how bulky the palate expander is, but you’ll get food stuck no matter what you do.
My advice is to enjoy your food and only worry about the stuck food at the end of the meal. The best thing you can do about it is to use a water flosser to dislodge the bits and pieces that are stuck under your device. Check out one of the best water flossers here.
No crunchy foods? What else can you eat?
Dealing with food restrictions can be challenging, but with a little creativity, you can still enjoy a variety of delicious meals while wearing your palate expander. Here are some food restrictions you may encounter and tips on how to cope with them:
I know eating can seem really daunting now that you or your child has an expander, but you still have plenty of options – you just need to get a little creative. Let’s talk about some breakfast, lunch and dinner ideas that you can enjoy despite your food restrictions.
Breakfast Ideas While Wearing An Expander:
Packed Lunch Ideas While Wearing An Expander:
Avoid the cafeteria if you’re unsure whether they have expander-friendly foods or not. Do a little prep work in the evenings and pack yourself or your child a delicious lunch that’s easy to chew and tastes great too.
Dinner Ideas While Wearing An Expander:
If you’re wearing a palate expander, finding dinner ideas that are easy to eat can be a challenge. But with a little creativity, you can enjoy a variety of delicious and nutritious meals that won’t be too hard on your expander.
When it comes to takeout, there are still some options you can enjoy while wearing an expander. For example, you can still eat pizza as long as you stick to the soft part of the crust and avoid any toppings that are hard or crunchy.
Chinese food can also be an option, but be sure to stick to softer dishes like lo mein, steamed dumplings, or egg drop soup.
Let’s not forget dessert! Ice cream is a fantastic option, especially if you’re wearing braces since cold foods can bring much relief to those sore teeth and make your life a little better.
Remember, it’s always a good idea to ask the restaurant for recommendations on softer options that will be easier to eat with your expander.
Why Eating Mindfully With An Expander Is So Important
You’re probably wondering what’s the big deal. Why is avoiding risky foods so important? The main reason why we want our patients to be extra careful with their diet while wearing their expanders is that the expander can come off partially or completely.
A loose expander is not something you want. Unlike braces, which we can bond again with no serious consequences, breaking or debonding an expander will cause the suture to close back almost completely. So, if you’re not careful, all progress will be lost.
Motivating your child to stick with the restrictions while wearing a palate expander can be a challenge, especially during birthday parties and sleepovers. But it’s essential to remind them of the importance of following the restrictions to ensure that their treatment is successful.
One way to motivate your child is by involving them in the meal planning process and allowing them to choose foods that are easy to eat and follow the restrictions.
This is not to say you should cook an entire new menu for your child. You can simply adapt what you and the rest of the family are eating.
You can also provide your kid with soft and easy-to-eat snacks that they can bring to parties or sleepovers. And finally, it’s important to remind your child of the benefits of wearing the expander and their progress so far.
Considerably modifying your diet to take care of a device isn’t easy. In fact, it’s right up there with changing your lifestyle to lose weight.
Fortunately, your palate expander treatment time will be limited to 4 to 9 months, so I’m sure you’ll dig into your favorite forbidden foods once your treatment is over. Until then, just hang in there and adapt recipes as much as possible.