What is a Palate Expander?

What Is a Palate Expander?

While braces are by far the best-known orthodontic device, there is a wide variety of helpful implements your team at Robison Orthodontics can use to improve your bite and your smile. Learn more about one of the most beneficial: the palate expander. This device is also known as an orthodontic expander or palatal expander.

A palate expander is an orthodontic device used to correct the dental arch on the roof of a patient’s mouth. The device is appropriately named, as the term “palate” refers to the roof of the mouth. In some patients, the palate needs to be widened (maxillary expansion) before braces can be applied.

Benefits of a Palate Expander

The most significant benefit of using a palate expander is to take advantage of the newly developing bone in a child’s mouth and use it to gently shape the palate. When the bone is just growing in, it is malleable and can be easily directed to avoid malocclusions (bad bites). As the expander gradually applies pressure, expansion at this point is not painful, and the patient will just feel a bit of pressure being exerted along their upper jaw.

Palate expanders can shorten the amount of time the patient will need to wear their braces because there is one less issue to correct. Another benefit to using palate expanders is largely aesthetic. Widening the jaw creates a more aesthetically pleasing smile in addition to helping the teeth to come in straight and in the proper positions.

What is a Palate Expander Used to Correct?

What is a Palate Expander Used to Correct?

In most cases, palate expanders are used to correct a narrow upper jaw or to correct a crossbite involving the back teeth. Expansion of the palate creates more space in a child’s mouth for their future orthodontic treatment by gradually widening the upper dental arch. Read on to learn more about the various orthodontic situations where a palate expander is necessary and how expansion can be used to address these issues, including crossbite, overcrowding, and impacted teeth.

To Correct a Crossbite

A crossbite occurs when an individual’s upper jaw is too narrow, which leads to their back teeth biting down on the inside of the lower teeth rather than the outside as they should. A crossbite can cause jaw discomfort while chewing or talking. This can be corrected with the help of a palate expander, as it broadens the upper jaw and corrects the bite.

Overcrowding Teeth

Overcrowding happens in the mouth when there isn’t enough space for the adult teeth to emerge within a child’s mouth. Even before the child’s adult teeth have come in, orthodontists can determine whether or not there will be adequate room in the mouth. Overcrowded teeth can be corrected with a palate expander because as the upper jaw is widened, there is more space for the adult teeth to emerge normally. This also eliminates the need for tooth extractions to create space.

Impacted Teeth

A tooth that hasn’t erupted yet and remains below the gumline is referred to as “impacted.” These teeth can potentially be blocked by other teeth already in the mouth. Using a palate expander to widen the upper jaw helps all teeth to erupt into the correct spot along the jaw and creates room for impacted teeth to erupt fully. The teeth that are most commonly impacted are the canines, the teeth that are directly under the eyes.

How Does a Palate Expander Really Work?

How Does a Palate Expander Really Work?

A palate expander functions because it exerts constant, gradual pressure onto the dental arch, eventually broadening the upper jaw. Each expander is custom-made for the patient to meet their needs. It usually attaches to several teeth in the middle and back of the upper jaw. The two halves are connected with a screw that is turned every couple of weeks to induce tension onto the sides of the jaw. This tension on the palatal bones forces them apart and widens the jaw.

Then, once the desired result is achieved, the expander is left in the mouth for a few more months. This allows the bones to settle in their new position. In general, the palate expansion process takes about six months.

Palate Expanders: Installation and Adjustment

Palate expanders must be installed by an orthodontic professional, never by the individual themselves. However, the procedure is fairly simple and not painful. First, metal brackets are placed around the four teeth that the palate expander will be attached to. Then, the metal plates and wires are attached to those brackets and connected in the middle with a screw. After the apparatus is placed, the orthodontist will adjust it to ensure the correct amount of tension. The wearer will most likely feel the pressure on their teeth and the roof of the mouth.

Since the two metal plates are connected at the junction with a screw, the expander is adjusted using a key. The key turns the screw which applies more tension and forces the metal plates apart. Such adjustments are gradual and carefully calibrated.

What to Expect Post-Installation

While some patients are bothered by palate expanders at first, it is important to remember that discomfort is mild and short-lived. The most uncomfortable part of the expander process is often the placement of the orthodontic separators that are used to make space between the teeth. The turning of the screw to expand the device can cause a few moments of discomfort, but most patients say adjusting a palate expander is actually less painful than having braces tightened.

Some patients find it strange to eat or speak immediately after having the palate expander placed. However, as the tongue adjusts to the appliance on the roof of the mouth, that sensation should go away soon.

Finally, it is possible that you may notice a small gap forming between your child’s two front teeth. This is normal and simply means that the expander is working well and achieving its desired results. When the child’s adult teeth come in, they will now have the space to do so in the correct position within the mouth, and the front teeth will return to their proper place.

Timing and Length of Treatment

Placement of palate expanders at the right time for the proper length of time is essential to ensure their effectiveness. Because the palate expander is moving the bone while it is still growing, the prime age for placement of an expander is during childhood when the teeth and bones within the mouth are most malleable. Children in the five to sixteen-year-old range have already erupted the majority of their adult teeth. Typically, this also includes adult molars, which helps the orthodontist see which areas need correcting with the palate expander.

As mentioned, after placement, the appliance will typically remain in the child’s mouth for five to six months. This allows the newly formed bone to mature and settle, ideally preventing regression of treatment.

Palate Expander Frequently Asked Questions

While we’ve answered many common palate expander questions above, here are some answers to questions our patients frequently ask.

How Painful Is a Palate Expander?
A palate expander is not a painful appliance to have installed, and it is not painful to wear. The most discomfort patients feel is typically during the installation process or while having the screw adjusted to provide more tension. The discomfort is due to the pressure being exerted on the roof of the mouth and teeth. However, this discomfort is generally mild.
Does a Palate Expander Hurt More Than Braces?
No. For most patients, the palate expansion process is actually less painful than braces. Some patients say that the adjustment of the palate expander is less uncomfortable than the braces tightening process.
What Is the Best Age for a Palate Expander?
The best age range for a palate expander is between five and sixteen years old. This age group has some, if not all, of their adult teeth. Their bones are also still malleable enough to shift with the expander.
How Long Does a Palate Expander Stay In?
Most patients wear a palate expander for five to six months. After the jaw has been widened the desired amount, the palate expander is typically worn for a few months afterward to give the newly formed bone time to set. Though patients might see an immediate improvement in their bite after three months, expect the expander to remain in place for another two to three months at least.
Can Adults Use Palate Expanders?
Adults can use palate expanders the same way that children do. However, the ideal age groups for palate expander use are children and teenagers; adult bones are less susceptible to movement since they are more mature, thus proving the expander less effective. Palate expansion is still a good alternative to jaw surgery for adults and may be suggested as a remedy to try before moving to surgery.
Can Palate Expanders Cause Speech Difficulties?
Initially, patients may experience some changes in speech, such as difficulty pronouncing certain sounds or lisping. However, most patients adapt to these changes within a short period as the mouth and tongue adjust to the presence of the expander. Speech therapy exercises may be recommended to help minimize any temporary speech difficulties.
Are There Any Dietary Restrictions With Palate Expanders?
While wearing a palate expander, individuals may be advised to avoid certain foods that are hard, sticky, or difficult to chew. This helps prevent damage to the expander and ensures its effectiveness. Orthodontists typically provide a list of foods to avoid, and it’s important to follow these guidelines to maintain the appliance. The list will be very similar to the list of foods to avoid with braces.
How Often Does a Palate Expander Need Adjusted?
Adjusting the palate expander is an important part of the process and may be done by the wearer. If this is the case, the orthodontist will create a schedule for how often and how much patients should be adjusting their expander. Typically, patients are instructed to turn the screw once or twice a day. Consistently adhering to the schedule provided by the orthodontist is crucial for the success of the treatment.
Do Palate Expanders Requires Special Care and Maintenance?
Yes, palate expanders require regular care and cleaning. Patients are usually provided with specific instructions on how to clean the expander, including using a toothbrush and dental floss to remove food particles. It’s essential to maintain good oral hygiene throughout the treatment period to prevent issues such as cavities and gum problems associated with the expander. Regular follow-up appointments with the orthodontist are also important for monitoring progress and making any necessary adjustments.

Palate Expanders and Orthodontic Care at
Robison Orthodontics

Palate Expanders and Orthodontic Care at Robison Orthodontics

Here at Robison Orthodontics, we offer all types of dental and orthodontic treatments for all ages. The recommended age to begin seeing an orthodontist is seven years old, but it is never a bad idea to start looking into orthodontic treatments that your child might need. Palate expanders can be a vital part of the braces process, and getting started sooner will benefit the treatment schedule and the patient.

We understand there are many questions parents and guardians may have regarding their child’s orthodontic treatment. If you’re currently undergoing orthodontic treatment, contact our office, and we’ll be sure to address any questions. If you’re ready to get your child started with their orthodontic treatment now, contact our office to schedule your consultation.