Needing your jaw widened can seem like a daunting experience, but we’re here to tell you everything you need to know about palatal expanders. With a passion for making patients smile in the Chicago area, our knowledgeable Windy City Orthodontics team knows your treatment may require more than just straightening your teeth.
Facial asymmetry, caused by a narrow upper jaw or crossbite, is not just an aesthetic concern for some patients. It can contribute to other oral and general health concerns like head and jaw pain. Dr. Darren Pakravan can utilize an orthodontic appliance called a palatal expander to correct the shape of your upper jaw. We’ve laid out the basics to help you understand precisely what palatal expanders are and how they work.
What is a palatal expander, and how does it work?
In simple terms, this device can apply constant pressure to your jaw and is slowly manipulated over time to widen the upper jaw allowing space for permanent teeth to grow in and existing teeth to be adjusted appropriately. This treatment is often used in children during facial growth when the bone is easier to change, but patients can also use it for adult palate corrections with excellent results.
The upper jaw grows in two separate pieces as your mouth matures to account for this growth. It isn’t until closer to the end of adolescence that the two halves bind together to form a solid supporting structure. Our expert team can utilize this permeability to help provide your teeth space to grow and align your upper jaw with your lower jaw for optimum alignment and bite.
The palatal expander is custom-made from the digital scan of your upper jaw and teeth. This impression is sent to a lab, where the data is turned into a high-grade metal and acrylic appliance that your orthodontist will install on the roof of your mouth. The device consists of two halves connected in the center by springs that your orthodontist will release after the expander is in place. This process takes time as it keeps pressure on both halves of the jaw bone, causing them to widen as intended, and is typically left on for a period of time after the desired results are achieved to allow time for the bone to adapt to its new position.
Different Types of Palatal Expanders
Depending on the adjustments needed for your unique jaw, there are several different types of palate expanders. Some devices are fixed, and some are removable, but all palatal expanders are custom-made for the perfect fit for your palate shape and size, and your treatment goals. Let’s take a look at some of the options in orthodontic expanders.
Removable Palate Expander
If the jaw corrections to be made are minor and can be done slowly in a younger patient, they may best benefit from a removable option. There are many types, but, in general, this appliance looks similar to a retainer with a screw in the center. It will need to be worn 24 hours a day but often do not require more prolonged treatment. Removable palatal expanders also do not always require tightening the screw daily, like permanent appliances.
Fixed Palate Expander
The fixed palate expander, most commonly known as the rapid palate expander (RPE), is a system of bands attached to corresponding back molars and connects high in the center of the roof of the mouth with a spring or screw. While most of the ones made at Windy City Orthodontics will have springs to provide a consistent push so the patient does not need to activate, if there is a screw you will be given a special key with instructions on how and when to use it to rotate the screw, maintaining adequate pressure for mouth expansion.
Does everyone need a palatal expander?
Palatal expanders are used to slowly expand the roof of the mouth and widen the upper jaw meaning anyone can require this specific orthodontic treatment. Malocclusions like an overbite, or when your upper teeth sit inside the lower teeth, can lead to complications like jaw and head pain, tooth decay and gum disease, and even sleep apnea. While having a narrow jaw can affect tooth alignment, leading to impaction and broken teeth or even obstruction of permanent teeth that have yet to grow in. A palatal expander can make both of these dental corrections.
Before puberty, your bones are still growing and forming, making them a bit more malleable than adult bones. This is also true for your jawbones and means this treatment is quicker and most effective when used during adolescence before adult teeth are entirely in place. This is not to say that adults can not benefit from the orthodontic treatment of palatal expanders, but you should expect a bit more discomfort and time to reach your desired results.
What should I know ahead of my treatment?
As with any procedure that will garner significant results like this, it does require work and commitment. While it may seem that this would be quite a painful experience, it isn’t more than minor discomfort, and typically, that discomfort only lasts a few minutes after adjusting the screw. And, just as with braces, palatal expanders may take a little time to get used as your tongue rests against the expander. This can make speaking, chewing, and swallowing seem a little off, but chances are, you are the only one that notices it, and you’ll get used to it in about a week.
Orthodontic treatment with a palatal expander can often cause space to form between your upper front two teeth. This spacing is entirely normal, and the gap typically closes on its own, but braces might be a good option for some patients to maintain this change. You may also experience some drooling, a lisp, or even some mild headaches during your treatment, especially after tightening the central screw.
It is essential to maintain proper oral hygiene during this treatment process as it is any other time. Brush and floss regularly and avoid eating chewy, sticky, or hard and crunchy foods to ensure the appliance is not compromised.
What if it won’t work for my unique needs?
Sometimes, a palatal expander may not be the best option for you or your smile. In those cases, Dr. Pakravan can recommend traditional braces, clear aligners, special rubber band wear, removal of impacted or overcrowded teeth, or even jaw surgery to correct the spacing in your jaw. Windy City Orthodontics has a solution for you no matter your orthodontic needs!
A wider palate makes for a bigger smile with Windy City Orthodontics!
Windy City Orthodontics is as unique as the smiles we create, so we welcome patients of all ages to discover a new smile at our office in Chicago, Illinois. Check out our Facebook page to see recent smile transformations and what we’re up to lately!
Deciding to seek orthodontic treatment is an exciting step! If you are ready to see what might be the best route to your best smile, we would love to meet with you for a FREE consultation to get to know you better. You can expect nothing but friendly faces, personalized services, and the latest treatments from expert orthodontist Dr. Pakravan and your Windy City Orthodontics team.