Palatal expanders are an orthodontic device that is used to correct an upper jaw that causes a bad bite. This type of misalignment is called a skeletal malocclusion. The term comes from the fact that the root cause of the misaligned teeth is actually the shape and/or size of the jawbone.
If you are wondering how palatal expanders work and what they are used for, read on to learn more.
Palatal expanders: The basics
A palatal expander is also called an upper jaw or maxillary expander. Most orthodontists use palatal expanders that widen the jaw by putting pressure on the teeth at the back of the mouth.
This type of palatal expander is made of two halves of a whole. Each half of the expander has two arms and the end of each arm attaches to a molar. The two halves are connected by an expansion screw.
Upper jaw expanders are custom-made to fit perfectly in the mouth of the patient.
How palatal expanders work
To activate the expander, a person uses a specially made key to turn the expansion screw ever so slightly. This causes the appliance to expand outwards and become a little bit wider. As a result, the arms of both halves of the expander push against the molars.
The palate is made up of two palatal bones that meet in the middle of the mouth, so the pressure that is exerted onto the molars pulls the palatal bones away from each other. This stimulates the palate to grow more cartilage and bone tissue.
Gradually, the palate grows and reshapes itself into a wider arch, which is how the palate expands, triggering the jaw to expand along with it.
The screw on a palatal expander is turned a little each day. A person will feel a little pressure in the moments after they turn the screw, but the feeling fades. Eventually, a person will notice that their dental arch has grown wider, to the benefit of their teeth.
What kinds of problems does an upper jaw expander fix?
Palatal expanders are used to correct several kinds of malocclusion. They reshape the upper jaw to fix problems like:
1. A crossbite
When the mouth is closed, the upper teeth should rest right in front of the lower teeth. A person with a crossbite will have teeth that do the reverse: The lower teeth will close over the upper teeth. This causes the lower jaw to outgrow the upper jaw. In extreme cases, a crossbite can make it hard for a person to chew, talk or breathe.
2. Crowded teeth
If the upper jaw is too narrow to hold a full set of permanent teeth, the teeth will crowd each other and fight for space as they grow. Instead of extracting some of the teeth, a dentist may choose to expand the upper jaw instead.
By using a palatal expander to widen the dental arch, the dentist creates enough space for the teeth to grow unhindered. The treatment effectively prevents or straightens crooked, crowded teeth.
3. Impacted teeth
Some children experience impacted teeth as their permanent teeth come in. This often happens with the canines, which tend to find themselves blocked by adjacent front teeth.
4. Breathing problems caused by a deep and narrow palate
Sometimes the shape of the upper jaw can make it hard for a person to breathe through their nose. They are forced to breathe through the mouth and in extreme cases, the breathing problems affect their sleep.
Mouth breathing also causes dry mouth which could lead to bad breath and other dental problems.
Who are good candidates for this treatment?
Because a palatal expander works by changing the bones of the palate and jaw, it works best on people who are still growing — meaning children, teens and young people. Their bones expand and change shape far more easily than older people's bones, which are set in their ways.
The rules of thumb for palatal expanders are:
- The younger the patient, the better the end result should be
- Expanders should be used on children no younger than five years old
- Children should get fixed palatal expanders, but older people can get removable ones
Find out if a palatal expander is a good option for your child
When you come to our practice, our orthodontist will evaluate you or your child to make a diagnosis. Based on their findings, they will recommend the most effective and conservative treatment available.
If a palatal expander ends up being the way to go, our experienced orthodontist will let you know what to expect. They will guide you through every step of the treatment.
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