A great advantage of early orthodontic treatment while a child is young is the ability to treat or prevent the development of a bad bite. Palatal expanders are used to progressively widen the upper jaw in order to make room for the rest of the teeth to develop. It does this by adding gentle pressure to the upper molars each time an adjustment is made. Palatal expansion is even more effective for children whose jaws have not yet fully developed – making orthodontic treatment easier if necessary in the future.
Common dental problems that can be treated using palatal expanders:
- Crossbite – When the upper teeth close inside the lower teeth, palatal expansion is used to widen the upper jaw.
- Crowding – When the jaw is too small for the permanent teeth to come in, palatal expansion may be used to help them erupt.
- Impacted Teeth – When a tooth that hasn’t had the chance to erupt yet is blocked by other teeth, palatal expanders are used to widen the upper jaw and give room for the tooth to erupt in the right position.
More benefits of expanding the upper jaw include:
- Broadening the smile for aesthetics
- Improve breathing
- Limit the number of teeth needed for extraction to create space for others
- Can reduce orthodontic treatment time
How Expanders Work
Custom-made for each patient, an expander fits over several top teeth in the back of the mouth. Just like the jaw, the appliance has two halves that are connected in the middle with a screw. To make an adjustment, simply turn the screw a very small amount each day with a special key. Over time, the two palatal bones gradually move apart. Expanders are typically worn for 3-6 months until the desired expansion is achieved and new bone in the form of a gap stabilizes the expansion.
What to Expect
It is normal to feel soreness or pressure for a few minutes after an adjustment. In reality, a palatal expander causes less discomfort than having braces tightened. Speaking and eating will feel different at first as the tongue adjusts to the presence of the appliance. It is also completely normal to see a gap develop between the front teeth. This shows that the expander is working correctly. Once orthodontic treatment is complete, the teeth will be aligned with little space between them.