What Is a Palatal Expander and Why Is It Needed?

Orthodontists help to straighten crooked teeth and treat problems with jaw development and facial growth. One of the most important orthodontic tools is the palatal expander. This appliance prevents, reduces, or corrects the severity of some jaw and teeth problems leaving room for growth of teeth. The palatal expander works by gently expanding the roof of the mouth and upper jaw. Timing is the key to this device’s efficiency. It is designed to capitalize on changes in tooth and jaw development unlike braces, which can work at any age.


What are some problems that may be treatable with a palate expander?

Posterior crossbite: Occurs when the upper teeth become too close to the back part of the lower teeth. This results in a narrow palate with the back of the upper teeth “biting” the lower teeth.

Teeth crowding: Lack of sufficient space in the jaw prevents the adult teeth from erupting in their correct positions. Crowded teeth can be aligned by palatal expansion, which may eliminate the need for teeth extraction.

Impacted teeth: Teeth that have not started erupting may become blocked by crowded teeth.

Breathing problems: This occurs when a high plate and narrow arc block air passages.

Palatal expansion may not do away with the need of your child to wear orthodontic braces but it can reduce treatment period for many jaw and teeth problems. In addition, it gives your child a beautiful smile helping to improve his or her self-esteem and confidence.

What Are The Mechanics of an Upper and Lower Jaw Expander?

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), baby teeth are often replaced by permanent teeth between the age of 6 and 13. Sadly, not all children have jaws big enough to accommodate the adult set of teeth. This causes misalignment and teeth crowding.

Upper Jaw Expander

The upper jaw expander works by stretching the cartilage and bone of the palate. Successful palatal expansion occurs between the ages of 14 and 16. Upper expanders are often fixed to the molars with metal rings. They are also detachable in some cases. They have expansion screws which when activated gently separates and stretch the flexible cartilage. This process takes several weeks or months. You may notice a gap between your child’s front teeth. This shows that palatal expander is working.

At first, an expander might feel uncomfortable and bulky but this will fade with time .It may also cause excess salivation, which will affect your child’s speech as he adjusts. During this period, give your child foods that do not require much chewing such as ice cream, pudding, mashed potatoes, yogurt, or soup. Avoid giving the child sticky foods that may become stuck beneath the expander.

Lower Jaw Expander

The function of a lower expander is dissimilar to that of the upper expander. The lower expander only moves the teeth. It does not expand the bones neither does it have a stitch to close. It mainly aligns teeth that are pointed inward. Enough bone and gum tissue around the roots should be available for this to work. If not, extraction might be required for best results.

Lower expanders resemble upper expanders. Orthodontists recommend using retainers with well built-in expansion screws. However, some opt for Invisalign to align and straighten the teeth and others use lip bumpers. Invisalign treatment is often recommended as an alternative for expander.


How Can I Keep Up with Oral Hygiene?

Regular and routine oral care is important for any child whether they are using expanders or not. Ensure your children brush their teeth twice a day. Daily flossing and cavity protection will help prevent tooth decay.

Debris and food can be trapped under an expander. Use a water jet or a special syringe to spray water under the expander to remove the food debris. A flexible palate cleaner can also be used to slide under the expander and remove food materials and debris.

Why does my child need a palatal expander?

  • To give the child a better bite
  • Align teeth better by creating space for crowded teeth
  • Widen air passages to make breathing easier

The Palatal Expansion Process

Rapid Palatal Expansion

A bionator may be required for lower jaw expansion. The expander works by turning a key in the center of the expander. The key pushes the arms of the expander approximately 1-2 millimeters a week. The procedure should be repeated twice a week for 2 to 3 weeks before the next orthodontic visit. Once the rapid palatal expander has been put in place, it may take a week or two for the patient to adjust to eating and speaking. Patients may experience an unusual feeling of excess space in the mouth once the expander is removed. An expander is usually left in the patient’s mouth for 9 weeks but this may vary depending on the severity of the dental problem. Once the expander is removed, the patient enters a 6-month retention period. During this time, a retainer is put in the patient’s jaws to keep the teeth in alignment.

Surgically Assisted Rapid Palatal Expansion

In some cases, palate halves may fuse in the same palate tissue. In such cases, the expander will have to be surgically inserted into the mid-palatal suture. The surgery is normally performed by an oral-maxiofacial surgeon.

First, the mid-palatal suture is dissected into two parts. Then the center of the mid-palatal suture is inserted into the open slit. The mid-palatal suture is later closed by the surgeon. The procedure is then completed by an orthodontist who connects the palatal expander’s band rings to the maxillary molars.

Efficiency of the Palatal Expander

The main factors affecting the efficiency of palatal expanders include rate of Expansion, duration of treatment, and age of the patient.

To reduce the chances of a relapse, your orthodontist may decide to expand your child’s palate beyond the initial target. Once you reach your target, the orthodontist will guide you on how long the child should use the retainer.

Free Consultations

Dr. Stephan Tisseront has an orthodontic practice in Reston, Va., where he treats children, teenagers and adults. Tisseront Orthodontics has top-of-the-line diagnostic equipment to determine if orthodontic treatment is necessary. Patients at Tisseront Orthodontics might need to wear:

• Removable Invisalign aligners made of clear plastic
• Lingual devices worn on the backs of your teeth
• Surgical treatments for serious orthodontic problems
• Retainers to maintain the positions of your teeth

Lingual devices worn on the backs of teeth are extremely popular to avoid having noticeable wires and braces, and Dr. Tisseront offers the Harmony and Incognito brands. Make a telephone call to 703-773-1200 to schedule your free consultation.

Tisseront Orthodontics
11720 Plaza America Drive, Ste. 110 Reston VA 20190-4762

Phone: (703)773-1200

What Is a Palatal Expander and Why Is It Needed?