What is Palatal Expansion?
Palatal expansion is a common orthodontic treatment that works by widening the roof of the mouth, which is known as the palate. The expander works to widen the upper jaw, making room for a child’s permanent teeth to erupt into their correct position.
Dental situations that make palatal expansion necessary include:
- Crossbite: An abnormal alignment of the teeth, where the upper teeth fit inside of the lower teeth.
- Underbite: An abnormal alignment of the teeth, where the lower teeth extend farther than the upper teeth.
- Cleft palate repair: A surgical procedure that involves closing the opening in the roof of the child’s mouth.
- Crowded teeth: Overcrowding occurs when there is not enough space in the mouth for permanent teeth to grow in.
- Impacted teeth: An impacted tooth means that the tooth has not erupted when expected or cannot erupt due to overcrowding in the mouth.
How do Expanders Work?
An expander is custom-made for each patient and fits over the top teeth in the back of the mouth. The expander may be attached by bands around the surrounding teeth or by plastic bonded over the teeth.
The expander has two halves that are connected in the middle with a screw. To activate the expander, the patient will turn the screw a small amount every day with a special key. This induces tension, encouraging the junction of the two palatal bones to grow wider.
When the desired expansion is achieved, the expander will be left in the mouth for a few more months to allow new bone to form in the gap and stabilize the expansion. In most cases, expanders are worn for six to nine months, depending on the child’s needs.
Palatal expanders are most likely to be successful in younger children as their jaw is still growing. Those who have reached mid or late adolescence may have a more difficult time with treatment because the jaw is almost fully developed. Implant-supported or surgically-assisted palatal expansion is typically the only treatment option at the mid or late adolescence stage.
Types of Palatal Expanders
There are four types of palate expanders, including:
Rapid Palatal Expander
A rapid palatal expander (RPE) is used to expand the palate and to correct the bite that either has a crossbite, a narrow upper arch, or crowding. The rapid palatal expander fits over a few back teeth in the upper jaw with a screw in the middle to tighten or activate.” This type of expander is typically worn for six to nine months in order to correct the bite.
Removable Palatal Expander
Children that only need a minor widening of the jaw may have a removable palatal expander. This appliance is similar in appearance to acrylic retainers.
Once the jaw is almost fully developed, an implant-supported expander may be necessary to successfully widen the jaw and palate.
Surgically-Assisted Palatal Expansion
When a child reaches full maturity, they usually have a fully developed jaw. If their doctor notices any structural issues, a surgical expander may be recommended. A surgically-assisted palatal expansion can help correct overcrowding, a misaligned bite, and balance the symmetry of the child’s upper and lower arches.
What to Expect
Your child may experience slight soreness or feeling of pressure immediately after the key is turned. While discomfort at first is normal, your child should not experience a lot of pain. Speaking and eating may feel different at first as the tongue adjusts to the presence of the expander.
For more information on orthodontic expanders, contact the experts at Abra Dental! Schedule an appointment today.