Tired of wasting time trying to figure out everything you need to know about palatal expanders? With years of experience straightening smiles for the Clarksville, Nashville, and Springfield area, our knowledgeable About Faces and Braces Orthodontics team has you covered. We know your treatment may require more than just straightening your teeth. Facial asymmetry, caused by a narrow upper jaw or crossbite, is not just an aesthetic concern for some patients. It can also contribute to other oral and general health concerns like head and jaw pain. Dr. Shawn, Dr. Candice, and their orthodontic team can utilize an orthodontic appliance called a palatal expander to correct the shape of your upper jaw.
In simple terms, this device can apply constant pressure to your jaw and is slowly manipulated over time to widen the upper jaw allowing space for permanent teeth to grow in and existing teeth to be adjusted appropriately. Let’s dive in to understand precisely what palatal expanders are, how they work, and if this might be a good option for your orthodontic journey.
What is a palatal expander?
The palatal expander is custom-made from the impression of your upper jaw and teeth. This impression is sent to a lab, where the data is turned into a high-grade metal appliance that your orthodontist will install on the roof of your mouth. The device consists of two halves connected in the center by a screw that your orthodontist will instruct you to turn with a unique 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 short 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.
Removable Palate Expander
If your jaw corrections 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 24 hours a day but often do not require more prolonged treatment. Removable palatal expanders also do not always require tightening the screw daily, like permanent appliances.
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 unique key with instructions on how and when to use it to rotate the screw, maintaining adequate pressure for mouth expansion.
Do I need a Palatal Expander?
Palatal expanders are used to slowly expand the roof of the mouth and widen the upper jaw meaning anyone can require this specific orthodontic treatment. Malocclusions like an overbite, or when your upper teeth sit inside the lower teeth, 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. A palatal expander can make both of these dental corrections.
Early treatment can radically simplify later treatment and, in some cases, can help you avoid later treatment altogether. It allows an orthodontist to monitor the growth of the jaw and guide incoming permanent teeth. It will enable the doctor to regulate the width of the upper and lower dental arches to gain space for permanent teeth, avoid the need for extractions, and reduce the likelihood of impacted permanent teeth.
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 during adolescence before adult teeth are entirely in place. While this treatment is most often used in children during facial growth when the bone is easier to change, adult patients can also use it for palate corrections with excellent results. Though, adult patients should expect a bit more discomfort and time to reach your desired results.
What else should I know?
As with any procedure that will garner significant results like this, it does require work and commitment. 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. And, just as 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 spacing is entirely normal, and the gap most often closes on its own, but braces or Invisalign might be a good option for some patients to maintain this change. You may also experience some drooling, a lisp, or even mild headaches during your treatment, especially after tightening the central screw.
It is essential to maintain proper oral hygiene during this treatment process as it is any other time. Brush and floss regularly and avoid eating chewy, sticky, or hard and crunchy foods to ensure the appliance is not compromised.
Are there any alternatives?
Sometimes, a palatal expander may not be the best option for you or your smile. 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. About Faces and Braces Orthodontics has a solution for you regardless of your orthodontic situation!
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At About Faces and Braces, we’ll give you the highest-quality treatment designed specifically for your smile needs and goals. Our entire team is passionate about creating a life-long smile for you and your family!
Deciding to seek orthodontic treatment is an exciting step! If you are ready to see what might be the best route to your best smile, we would love to meet with you for a FREE consultation to get to know you better. At About Faces and Braces Orthodontics, we want your time with us to be great. No two people are the same, so no treatment plans should be the same.