Everything You Need to Know About Palatal Expanders

When you think of orthodontic treatment, you likely imagine metal brackets and wire braces or maybe even the newest option of clear aligners, like Invisalign. While creating gleaming straight smiles is the bulk of what an orthodontist focuses on, the shape of your upper jaw or palate can affect your facial symmetry. It may cause a crossbite or narrow upper jaw, leading to more complicated and often painful oral health issues. Here at Scaffidi Orthodontics, our expert team can straighten your teeth and correct jaw shape. We accomplish this by utilizing orthodontic appliances called palatal expanders

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. 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 with excellent results. 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 upper jaw grows in two separate pieces as your mouth matures to account for this growth. It isn’t until closer to puberty that the two halves bind together to form a solid supporting structure. This means that our expert team is able to utilize 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 Dr. Scaffidi‘s 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 in the roof of your mouth. The device consists of two halves that are connected together 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 short 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. 

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 for 24 hours a day but often does not require a longer treatment time. Removable palatal expanders also do not always require tightening of 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 special key with instructions on how and when to use it to rotate the screw, maintaining adequate pressure for mouth expansion.

Everything You Need to Know About Palatal Expanders

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, 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. 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. This is not to say that adults can not benefit from the orthodontic treatment of palatal expanders, but you should expect a bit more discomfort and time to reach your desired results.

The Negatives and Alternatives

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 is entirely normal, and the gap most 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.  

It is imperative 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. 

A palatal expander may not be the best option for you or your smile in some instances. In those cases, Dr. Scaffidi can recommend traditional braces, removal of impacted or overcrowded teeth, or even jaw surgery to correct the spacing in your jaw. No matter your orthodontic situation, Scaffidi Orthodontics has a solution for you!

Everything You Need to Know About Palatal Expanders

For trusted experience and care, trust Scaffidi Orthodontics

A smile says so much about you. That’s why orthodontics is about more than just straightening teeth. The expert team at Scaffidi Orthodontics is here to give you a new smile in a fun, lighthearted, and family-friendly atmosphere. We are always available to answer any questions about your smile, and we are here to listen to your concerns and needs. 

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. With offices in Kenner, New Orleans, and Slidell, excellent orthodontic treatment is only a few minutes from your home, work, or school. We can’t wait to meet you.