What is a circuit breaker in orthodontics?

The circuit breaker is a device that is placed on the roof of the mouth and is used in interceptive orthodontics to correct the problems that a narrow palate (with differences between the size of the jawbone and the mandible) causes in growing children.

This last point is important, as the circuit breaker is only effective at an early age, up to the age of 12. If this narrow palate is not treated in time, it will lead to more severe problems in adults, whose only solution is orthognathic surgery combined with the use of orthodontics.

The main objective of this device is to make the palate wider in order to solve these problems.

Why does the narrow palate appear?

There are several reasons that can lead a child to suffer from narrow palateThese include mouth breathing, lack of lip seal, atypical swallowing or digital sucking, among others.

What are the consequences?

This discrepancy in size between the maxilla and mandible causes various problems such as dental crowding, problems in the eruption of teeth, crossbite or breathing difficulties.

Sometimes these problems can be very serious, as severe overcrowding can lead to poor dental hygiene and even periodontal disease.

How does a circuit breaker work?

Drawing by David Brugarolas

Depending on the clinical characteristics of each patient, we design a specific appliance, but in general we find an appliance that is cemented in the upper molars and is composed of acrylic and metal material. In the junction area, which is located in the palate, there is the activation screw.

It is with the activation of this screw that the force that causes the palate to expand is generated. This is not a painful process for children, they will only feel a slight pressure in each of the activations, which will be carried out at home by the parents, always following the indications provided by our orthodontists for their specific case. Mainly due to the latter, it is important to attend the check-ups at the clinic to guarantee the success of these treatments.

The treatment will last between 7 and 12 activations (or what we call 'active treatment days') depending on the bone compression of each child and the planning that has been considered appropriate based on it. During these days is when the palate expands and the problem is solved, although it will (quite possibly) generate a space between the upper incisors. However, we should not worry, as this diastema will close spontaneously in about 20 or 30 days after the end of the active period.

And then?

When the palate expansion is complete, the screw is left in a fixed position to prevent any unnecessary movement or setback in the treatment. It is kept in this position for 6 to 8 months to ensure bone regeneration and maintain the stability of the treatment.

Hygiene guidelines

When wearing a fixed appliance in the mouth, teeth cleaning must be more thorough. It is possible for food debris to be stored in the palate area, so parents should ensure that children brush their teeth properly after each meal and that the areas where the appliance is attached to the mouth have been brushed.

The usual tips for proper brushing are similar to those for any other type of fixed orthodontics. For example, it is always advisable to rinse your mouth with water and spit vigorously before brushing to remove any food debris around the appliance. It is also important to clean the palatal area of the appliance, which is often done with an ear swab, especially in the adjustment area.

Brushing should be as usual, from the gum towards the tooth and with precise, sweeping movements, trying to clean the teeth and the appliance at the same time in the areas where they meet. As always, we should use auxiliary elements such as interproximal brushes or dental floss for efficient cleaning and we can finish with a mouthwash.

And always, always, always reviewed by parents. Good hygiene will be fundamental during this period to prevent future problems with gums and teeth.


This is the end of our article on the palatal switch and its orthodontic use. If you would like to send us any questions, you can use the usual channels through social networks and the comments section.

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