Sleep apnea in children causes disruptive sleep that can lead to learning and behavioral problems if left untreated. Orthodontic treatment can be used effectively to treat obstructive sleep apnea. Early diagnosis and treatment can also prevent problems that are much harder to treat in adulthood.
Following a diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea, the use of a rapid maxillary expander (RME) can increase the width of a child’s maxilla (upper jaw). Expansion of the maxilla increases the space in the nasal airway and helps reduce the mouth breathing that can cause sleep apnea.
What is a rapid maxillary expander (RME)?
The RME is a flat, expandable, butterfly-shaped metal appliance that is temporarily cemented to 1 molar on each side of the upper jaw. Once seated, the RME sits close the the roof of the mouth and can hardly be seen. It is adjusted on a daily basis with a key by the patient or the patient’s parents to gradually widen the upper jaw. This process of increasing the maxillary width is known as distraction osteogenesis and it is a painless procedure. By slowly expanding the upper jaw, new bone is allowed time to grow in the middle for expansion stability. Expansion is typically complete in about a month and the number of turns depends on how narrow the upper jaw is to start.
How do I know if my child can benefit from an RME?
Every child should have an early screening to assess the need for orthodontic care and, if appropriate, create a treatment plan. The American Association of Orthodontics recommends initially screening your child by age 7. This early screening can help to diagnose any abnormalities in anatomy that could lead to sleep apnea. The best results with the RME are achieved before age 15, which is typically when the maxilla fuses and .
Will the RME cause any pain or other side effects?
Each time the key is used to turn the RME, your child should feel slight pressure, but generally no pain or soreness associated with it. Spacing between the upper front teeth is sometimes a side effect but it typically self corrects as more permanent teeth erupt.
An RME can be used to treat other symptoms such as a crossbite of the back teeth, shifting of the lower jaw when closing, and sometimes TMJ issues. The best way to know whether your child could benefit from an RME is to visit us for a complimentary consultation. During the first visit, we’ll get to know you and your child and make recommendations about treatment. Don’t wait to schedule a screening. Early diagnosis can make treatment easier and faster and prevent problems that may occur as your child grows and develops.
To request your complimentary consultation at any of our three locations, please call 540-563-1640 or use our appointment request form.
For more information about starting treatment, visit the New Patients section of our website. We work with ALL insurances, will help you understand your benefits and will file on your behalf! We also have several payment options and a family care program that includes discounts for additional family members.
— Dr. Jones and the Roanoke Valley Orthodontics Team