Let’s Get Palatal! Everything You Need To Know About Palatal Expanders

At Bowen Family Orthodontics, we like to keep up with the latest trends and topics on orthodontics, so our patients are always up-to-date on how to get the most out of their smiles. Today we want to go over palatal expanders and how they can help impact your orthodontic journey. Dr. Bowen and the team in Mullica Hill want to help you get all the right tools to get your best smile! Whether you’re thinking about taking the palatal plunge or just curious, we’re here to answer all your burning questions about palatal expanders. 

What Is A Palatal Expander?

Before we get into the ins and outs of palatal expanders, let’s start by telling you what they are. A palatal expander is used to fix discrepancies between the upper and lower jaw.  It also can make the jaw bone larger to fit all your permanent teeth, creating a broader, more aesthetically pleasing smile.

What Are They Used For?

Palatal expanders can have a variety of uses depending on the patient. 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. 

What Are The Different 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. However, it does not require a longer treatment time. Removable palatal expanders don’t always require daily screw tightening like permanent appliances. 

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 open the device, the space between your palate bones widens a little. 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 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. 

Let's Get Palatal! Everything You Need To Know About Palatal ExpandersWho Needs A Palatal Expander? 

Sometimes, patients will need palatal expanders for comprehensive treatment when a patient is ready to start braces or aligners, but we need to expand 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 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. 

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 may prevent 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 and may negate the need for more invasive intervention. 

Sleep Apnea – In addition to crowding issues, palatal expanders can help ease 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.

Can Adults Use Palatal Expanders?

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.

Do They Hurt?

In a word, no. However, it is not uncommon for patients to feel discomfort during their first week with expanders. You’ll likely notice a bit of pressure on the roof of your mouth, on your teeth, behind your nose, and maybe even between your eyes. 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 adjustments to their new expanders.

Let's Get Palatal! Everything You Need To Know About Palatal ExpandersReady To Learn More? Visit Us At Bowen Family Ortho!

At Bowen Family Orthodontics, high-quality orthodontics is our top priority. Whether you’re just starting out or well into your oral healthcare journey, our team will work hard to produce beautiful smiles for everyone. If you’re considering palatal expanders, make sure you stop by and visit our office. We proudly service patients of all ages in Mullica Hill and the surrounding communities.