Everything You Need to Know About Palatal Expanders

The shape of your mouth 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 Johnson Orthodontics, our well-trained team can straighten your teeth and correct jaw shape. We accomplish this by using orthodontic appliances called palatal expanders. 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. Here’s everything you need to know about palatal expanders.

What is a palatal expander?

Let’s start with the basics: The upper jaw grows in two separate pieces as your mouth matures to accommodate this growth. It isn’t until you reach puberty that the two halves bind together to form a solid supporting structure. This means that our orthodontic 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 the best alignment and bite. 

The palatal expander is custom-made from a digital scan Dr. Johnson 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. This 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 unique 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, also referred to 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. 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 Palate Expander

If the jaw corrections you need 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. 

Everything You Need to Know About Palatal Expanders

Who Needs a Palatal Expander?

Palatal expanders 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, gum disease, and sleep apnea. 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 you reach puberty, your bones are still growing and forming, which makes them a bit softer than adult bones. This is 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 orthodontic procedure, it requires time, work, and effort. While it may seem that this would be 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 completely normal and the gap closes on its own, but braces might be an excellent option for some patients to maintain this change. You may experience some drooling, a lisp, or even some mild headaches during your treatment, especially after tightening the central screw.  

There may be some instances where an alternative option to palatal expanders may be better. If this is the case, Dr. Johnson can recommend traditional braces, removal of impacted or overcrowded teeth, or even jaw surgery to correct the spacing in your jaw. 

Everything You Need to Know About Palatal Expanders

Get the smile you deserve at Johnson Orthodontics 

No matter how old you are or where you are in your orthodontic journey, you deserve the right team at your side. Johnson Orthodontics provides an exceptional care experience with cutting-edge orthodontic technology and a warm, professional team. Are you interested in learning more about treatment? Get in touch with us today to schedule a FREE consultation or follow-up appointment with Dr. Johnson in our Rehoboth Beach office!