Everything You Need To Know About Palatal Expanders

At Central Virginia Orthodontics, we believe achieving a perfect smile is all about balance. Spacing and alignment are two major factors in getting a great smile. While braces are often a useful tool, there are alternate ways to treat your teeth, one of which is a tool we use called palatal expanders. In this article, we will go over palatal expanders and how they can help you navigate your orthodontic journey.

Palatal expanders

Of course, before we get started, let’s go over the function of a palatal expander and its uses. 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 is an orthodontic appliance that widens the upper jaw. It’s used to make the jaw bone larger to fit all permanent teeth. Palatal expanders also fix discrepancies between the upper and lower jaw, creating a more even and beautiful smile.

Who are they for? 

Sometimes, patients will need palatal expanders for comprehensive treatment when a patient is ready to start braces or aligners but need more space for the jaw. Palatal expanders are effective tools for younger patients. Before you reach puberty, your bones are still growing and forming, which makes them softer than adult bones and easier to move. The widening of the jawbone helps prevent serious oral conditions that can result in massive dental work.

Palatal expanders are more common among kids, but adults can also benefit from them. The treatment will look different for an adult than it would for a child and will generally take longer. Since the jaw is fully extended, all your adult teeth have already grown in and set in place. Special techniques may be needed to alter the jaw in adult patients, including implants or surgical options.

What do they do? 

A palatal expander can work in a couple of different ways. There are different types of expanders available to patients depending on treatment needs. After the palatal expander is placed, your orthodontist will show you how it should be used. You’ll get instructions on how often to use the expanders. 

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 and come with a key. 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. 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. However, it does not require a longer treatment time. Removable palatal expanders don’t always require daily screw tightening like permanent appliances. 

Everything You Need To Know About Palatal Expanders

When are they most effective?

Palatal expanders are a great tool for patients with spacing issues. The idea of the expander is to create room and symmetry along the jaw so that your teeth can grow evenly into place. Palatal expanders are wonderful options for patients with crowding issues such as:

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 or posterior crossbite, a palatal expander is typically needed to fix a posterior crossbite. 

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. 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 – Besides crowding issues, palatal expanders can help ease sleep apnea symptoms. 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.

Where are they inserted?

Because of the various uses, treatment with palatal expanders will vary in different patients. Since your expander will be customized to fit the shape of your mouth, you’ll need two appointments; one to take an impression of your mouth and one to put your palate expander in place. At the first appointment, bands will be placed on your upper molars, and an impression will be made.

After about two weeks, you’ll have a second appointment to have your palate expander put in place. Since the expander is designed for your mouth, fitting it in place is simple. Your orthodontist will prepare your teeth and then use dental cement to attach the device to your upper teeth. After your palate expander is in place, your orthodontist will teach you how to turn the expander, provide instructions for home care, and discuss hygiene and diet tips.

Why should I get one?

Palatal expanders can be a great choice for patients who proactively want to get an aligned smile. Palatal expanders not only help prevent crowding issues, but In certain cases, the payoff of wearing a palatal expander is huge. Palatal expanders can ensure you or your child is able to get a broad, beautiful smile without the need for tooth extractions, lengthy treatment or even corrective jaw surgery in adulthood. With the many resources and advancements in orthodontics, palatal expanders are quickly becoming popular choices for patients who want to expand their smiles. 

Everything You Need To Know About Palatal Expanders

Get the right palatal expanders for you with Central Virginia Orthodontics.

At Central Virginia Orthodontics, our mission is to make the most out of your smile. Our team of experts and welcoming office space are here to create amazing orthodontic experiences for all of our patients. We are here to provide a personalized treatment plan to help you achieve your goals. If you’re in Central Virginia or the surrounding areas, feel free to give us a call. We look forward to helping you get your best smile. 

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