The shape of your mouth is as unique as you are and plays a significant role in your facial symmetry, but a crossbite or narrow upper jaw can lead to complicated and sometimes painful oral health issues. Here at New England Orthodontic Specialists, our well-trained team can straighten your teeth and correct jaw shape. We accomplish this by using orthodontic appliances called palatal expanders. In simple terms, this appliance applies constant pressure to your jaw. Over time, it’s slowly manipulated to widen the upper jaw, allowing permanent teeth to grow in and existing teeth to be adjusted appropriately. This treatment is most often used in children during facial growth when the bone is easier to change, but it can also be used for adult palate corrections as well. Here’s everything you need to know about palatal expanders!
What is a palatal expander?
Let’s break it down: The upper jaw grows in two separate pieces as your mouth matures to accommodate this growth. It isn’t until puberty that the two halves actually bind together to form a solid supporting structure. This means that our team can take advantage of this permeability to help provide your teeth space to grow and align your upper jaw with your lower jaw for optimum alignment and bite.
The palatal expander is custom-made from a digital scan our team makes based on your upper jaw and teeth. This digital scan is sent to a lab, where the data is turned into a high-grade metal appliance that your orthodontist will place on the molar teeth in the back of the mouth. The device consists of two halves that are connected in the center by a screw that you will be instructed to turn with a special key on a specified schedule. This process takes time as it keeps pressure on both halves of the jaw bone, causing them to widen as intended, and is typically left on for a specific amount of time after the desired results are achieved to allow time for the bone to get used to its new position.
Different Types of Palatal Expanders
Depending on the adjustments needed for your specific jaw, there are several different types of palate expanders. Some expanders are fixed, and some are removable, but all palatal expanders are custom-made for the perfect fit for your palate shape and size. Let’s take a look at some of the options in orthodontic expanders.
Fixed Palate Expander
The fixed palate expander, most commonly known as the rapid palate expander (RPE), is a system of bands attached to corresponding back molars and connects high in the center of the roof of the mouth with a screw. You will be given a special key with instructions on how and when to use it to rotate the screw, maintaining adequate pressure for mouth expansion.
Removable Palate Expander
If your jaw corrections to be made are minor, you may best benefit from a removable option. There are many brands, but in general, this appliance looks similar to a clear aligner tray with a screw in the center. It will need to be worn twenty-four hours a day but often do not require a longer treatment time. Removable palatal expanders don’t always require tightening of the screw daily like permanent appliances.
Who Needs a Palatal Expander?
Palatal expanders are used to slowly expand the roof of the mouth and widen the upper jaw, so anyone can require this specific orthodontic treatment. Malocclusions like an overbite can lead to complications like jaw and head pain, tooth decay and gum disease, and even sleep apnea. While having a narrow jaw can affect tooth alignment, leading to impaction and broken teeth or even obstruction of permanent teeth that have yet to grow in. Both of these dental corrections can be made by utilizing a palatal expander.
Before puberty, your bones are still growing and forming, making them a bit softer than adult bones. This is also true for your jawbones and means this treatment is quicker and most effective when used on children before adult teeth are entirely in place.
Considerations and Alternatives
Like with any procedure with these kinds of results, it requires work and effort. While it may seem that this would be quite a painful experience, it isn’t more than minor discomfort, and typically, that discomfort only lasts a few minutes after adjusting the screw. Just like with braces, palatal expanders may take a little time to get used as your tongue rests against the expander. This can make speaking, chewing, and swallowing seem a little off, but chances are, you are the only one that notices it, and you’ll get used to it in about a week.
Orthodontic treatment with a palatal expander can often cause space to form between your upper front two teeth. This is entirely normal and the gap often closes on its own, but braces might be an excellent option for some patients to maintain this change. You may also experience some drooling, a lisp, or even some mild headaches during your treatment, especially after tightening the central screw.
In some instances, an alternative option to palatal expanders may be more ideal. In those cases, our doctors can recommend traditional braces, removal of impacted or overcrowded teeth, or even jaw surgery to correct the spacing in your jaw.
Get the care you deserve at New England Orthodontic Specialists
You deserve the right care on your journey to the perfect smile. With the right orthodontists to guide you through the right treatment, better confidence is right around the corner. If you have any questions or concerns about oral hygiene during treatment, our expert team is always here to help set your mind at ease. Get in touch with us today to schedule a FREE initial consultation or follow-up with Dr. Neil and Dr. Diana in any of our offices – Beverly, Topsfield, South Hamilton, or Salem.