Working your way to a great smile starts with good bone symmetry. An aligned jaw is a foundation for straighter teeth. At Adult and Pediatric Orthodontics, we believe your smile is one of a kind, and you deserve to be treated with unique care. That means giving you every option in order to achieve your perfect smile. Palatal expanders are effective tools that have become popular among patients. In this post, we will go over what palatal expanders are and how they can be used to achieve your ideal smile.
A palatal expander is used to expand the jawline. An expander is placed in a patient’s mouth and slowly, over time, creates space by cranking the expander to allow your teeth to grow evenly. Palatal expanders also fix discrepancies between the upper and lower jaw for an even bite.
How palatal expanders work
Before we go deeper into palatal expanders, it’s good to get a better idea of how they work. The upper jaw comprises two distinct halves that don’t fuse together until the mid-teen years. We can gently separate the bones by using an expander before this fusion occurs to make the palate wider. This gives your teeth more room as they shift into place along the jaw. A palatal expander works with a special key that you (or your parent) turn a couple of times a day. Since your palate comprises two bones, each half of the expander is connected to each side. When you turn the key to crank the device, the space between your palate bones widens a little.
After the palatal expander is seated (placed in your mouth), your orthodontist will give it its first crank and show you how it’s done. You’ll get instructions on how often to use the key and how much to turn it in. We can also align your upper jaw with your lower jaw for the best alignment and bite.
Why would I get a palatal expander?
Palatal expanders help primarily create space so that your teeth can grow evenly. Patients who need palatal expanders typically suffer from structural issues requiring jaw widening. Palatal expanders are ideal for patients who may suffer from these conditions:
A Crossbite – A crossbite often occurs because the upper jaw is too narrow to fit properly with the lower jaw. This causes some bottom teeth to bite outside the top teeth. While patients can have an anterior crossbite or posterior crossbite, a palatal expander is typically needed to fix a posterior crossbite. Suppose a severe crossbite isn’t addressed with early orthodontics. In that case, patients may compensate by shifting the jaw to one side, which can lead to permanent, unwanted changes to the facial structure, as well as jaw and TMJ pain and excessive wear of the enamel.
Severe Crowding – Severe crowding is when most anterior teeth in the upper or lower jaw overlap. In addition to rotations and overlapping, teeth crowding can be categorized by the specific amount of overcrowding that is present. A palatal expander can widen the jaw to fit the permanent teeth, which minimizes future crowding and prevents the need for tooth extractions.
Impacted Teeth – Other teeth can block a permanent tooth’s path, stopping it from erupting. When the tooth gets stuck beneath the bone or tissue, it’s called an impacted tooth. This is usually seen with canine teeth (eyeteeth). A palatal expander can help make enough space for the impacted tooth to erupt without needing more invasive intervention.
Sleep Apnea – In addition to crowding issues, palatal expanders can be helpful in easing symptoms of sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder that interrupts your breathing patterns while you sleep. By realigning your jaw, palatal expanders help open up the airways to the patient’s breathing passage to allow better, more consistent sleeping cycles.
Types of palatal expanders
There are different types of palatal expanders to fit your different needs. Some are fixed, and some are removable.
Fixed Palatal Expander
The fixed palatal expander, also called the rapid palatal expander (RPE), is a system of bands attached to corresponding back molars. Fixed palatal expanders connect high in the center of the roof of the mouth with a screw. Your orthodontist will give you a special key with instructions on how and when to use it to rotate the screw, maintaining adequate pressure for mouth expansion.
Removable Palatal Expander
Removable palatal expanders are a great option for patients who only need minor jaw corrections. They are removable appliances that look similar to a clear aligner tray with a screw in the center. If removable palatal expanders are your preference, they should be worn twenty-four hours a day. Removable expanders don’t require a longer treatment time. Removable palatal expanders also don’t always require daily screw tightening like permanent appliances.
Choosing the palatal path
Orthodontic treatment with palatal expanders can be a big adjustment. Like braces, patients using palatal expanders for orthodontic treatment can feel uncomfortable. Palatal expanders may take some time to get used to as your tongue rests against the expander. This can make speaking, chewing, and swallowing a bit strenuous. While patients find it difficult at first, most can make the adjustments to their new expanders after about a week.
Because of the widening of the jaw, patients with a palatal expander often notice a gap beginning to form between their upper front two teeth. This is entirely normal, and the space closes on its own, but braces might be an excellent option for some patients to maintain this change.
Expand on your smile at Adult & Pediatric Orthodontics
The team at Adult & Pediatric Orthodontics makes it our mission to create the best treatment for patients of all ages at our offices in Portland and Windham. Our team believes that your whole family deserves a beautiful smile in a low-stress environment. You’ll enjoy comfortable and state-of-the-art treatment, personalized just for you by a certified smile specialist. If you are looking to expand on your smile, give us a call for a free consultation. You’ll love our friendly team, comfortable technology, and an all-around great experience.