What is a Palatal Expander?

by | Mar 23, 2023 | Orthodontic Treatments | 0 comments

Here at Patuxent Orthodontics, patients of all ages, from children to senior citizens, search for effective solutions to their dental woes. While some of their oral health issues spring up later in life, others become accustomed to orthodontic appointments from a young age. Crossbites and width discrepancies in the child’s upper jaw call for an orthodontic appliance capable of solving these issues and putting your child’s oral health on the right track. The answer? Palatal expanders!

A palatal expander — also called a palate expander or orthodontic expander— is an oral device capable of promptly addressing crossbites or narrow upper jaws. Orthodontists have been relying on such appliances with success for decades, treating both children (early orthodontic treatment) and adults. Several types of palate expanders are available for our patients, each with its own pros and cons. But they all strive toward the same objective: giving your teeth enough room to grow healthily!

This article will discuss the numerous health benefits of using palate expanders, as well as the ways through which you can prolong your palate expander’s longevity!


What is a Palate Expander?

Palate expanders are oral orthodontic appliances used to widen the upper jaw. Orthodontists install the device right on the roof of the mouth. Over time, the device creates space in your oral cavity by moving both halves of the upper jawbone.

Orthodontic expanders are commonly used in children with narrow upper jaws. Since their jawbones are still growing and settling in their lifetime places, receiving a palatal expansion from a young age will prove more rewarding in the long run. But there’s no reason why teens and adults can’t get them, too!


How Does a Palatal Expander Work?

Childhood is the time when the oral cavity undergoes profound transformations. It’s when the two halves of your child’s upper jaw — left and right — experience constant growth and movement, all until puberty, when they finally fuse together.

Palatal expander

That is why the earlier you have a palate expander installed on the roof of your mouth, the better. The stainless steel device applies pressure to the two halves of the upper jaw, causing them to widen apart. Once the palate expander fulfills its purpose and the palate widens, the space left behind is filled with new bone tissue.

The device generally needs 3-12 months to get the job done. Once the orthodontic treatment is over, your teeth will be free to take up the newly freed space and grow appropriately!


The Types of Palate Expanders

Your ideal choice of palate expanders depends upon several factors, such as age and upper jaw width. That is why you’ll need to consult a specialist before proceeding with your orthodontic treatment.


1. Removable Palate Expander

Removable palate expanders are the option with the least dramatic results. Orthodontists recommend them to patients who only need a touch of extra space in their upper jaws.

Patients wear their removable palate expanders throughout the day, except for eating, playing, and tooth brushing times. You might even confuse them with an orthodontic retainer, although they’re made from different materials (i.e., chrome instead of acrylic)!


2. Rapid Palatal Expander

Rapid palatal expanders follow the same approach as removable ones for quick results. On average, a rapid palatal expander widens your upper jaw by 0.5 millimeters per day. Most patients wear these devices for 3-6 months to achieve their desired results.


3. Surgically Assisted Rapid Palatal Expander (SARPE)

A surgically assisted palate expander, or SARPE, takes the jaw-widening process to a new level. Most patients who opt for a SARPE are either children with moderate to severe crowding or adults with a fully developed upper jaw. The device is installed on the mid-palatal suture and relies on your back upper teeth for support.


4. Implant-Supported Palate Expander

Unlike the previous devices, implant-supported palate expanders imply a different approach — they apply pressure to four small dental implants instead of your teeth. Therefore, it is the upper jaw that receives the treatment directly, not your teeth. Because of this different approach, your orthodontist will closely work with a periodontist to install the dental implants.


When are Palate Expanders Necessary?

The process of widening a narrow upper jaw can solve numerous oral health issues, such as:

  1. Crooked and overlapping teeth: With enough space in the oral cavity, your child’s adult teeth won’t have to fight for enough space to erupt properly.
  2. Crossbite: A condition affecting the alignment of your upper teeth (which sit inside the lower teeth due to lack of space). A wider jaw will allow the upper teeth to stack on the lower ones correctly.
  3. Impacted teeth: Patients experience impacted teeth when a bone or other tissue forbids an incoming adult tooth (mostly the canines) from erupting. Palate expanders remove the obstacle and allow the incoming tooth to make its way out without invasive treatment options.
  4. Overcrowded teeth: palate expanders minimize the urgency of tooth extractions or braces in children with crowded teeth. This treatment option will create enough space in the oral cavity for proper brushing and adult tooth eruption.
  5. Sleep apnea: A palate expander can provide encouraging results in patients with this condition.

Girl with crooked teeth

FAQ About Palate Expanders


Are Palate Expanders Painful?

Palate expanders are not painful in and of themselves, but, as with any orthodontic appliance, it’ll take some time before you get used to them. They will cause minor discomfort in the beginning, but you shouldn’t feel their presence anymore after a while.

The more uncomfortable process occurs before receiving the actual treatment. First, your orthodontist will install a device called an orthodontic separator to create space between your teeth. Its presence will be uncomfortable, but only for a week, after which the device is replaced with the palate expander.

During the remainder of your treatment, you will notice your palatal expander’s presence only when adjusting the device, which adds more pressure to the jaw and teeth.


When Do Younger Children Need a Palate Expander?

Most children require an orthodontic palatal expander when dealing with conditions such as:

  • Crooked and overlapping teeth
  • Crossbite
  • Impacted teeth
  • Overcrowded teeth
  • Sleep apnea

Contact our office and schedule a consultation if your child manifests any symptoms associated with these dental conditions!


How Long Will I Wear My Palate Expander?

The orthodontic device will remain in your oral cavity until the palatal expansion is complete. In the meantime, the new bone tissue will grow, allowing for more space in your mouth.

The timetable may differ from patient to patient, depending on their age and upper jaw width. For example, a child’s mouth needs less time for the upper jaw to expand, whereas an adult, with their jaws already grown, will have to be more patient. That is why most patients wear palate expanders anywhere between four to six months and an entire year.

Palate expander

Will a Palate Expander Affect My Face Shape?

The answer is absolutely not. Palate expanders only go as far as widening your jaw — their results are not dramatic enough to cause a change in the actual appearance of your face.


How Do I Adjust My Palate Expander?

Certain palate expanders require constant adjusting to maintain the same pressure on your jaw. This is an easy process, which your orthodontist will explain in detail.

Each orthodontic expander has a series of holes in the screw, which appear with every adjustment of the device. All you have to do is insert a special key into the last hole and rotate it toward the back of your mouth. You will see a new hole pop up after each rotation. Be sure to follow your adjustment calendar to the letter to keep up on your progress!


How Will I Eat With a Palate Expander?

As with braces, it will take some time before you become accustomed to your new palate expander. The new device will slightly affect your chewing, speaking, and swallowing, although not enough to cause serious issues. Once the roof of your mouth is past the novelty of the device, everything will be back to normal.

In the meantime, we recommend that you settle for softer, easier-to-chew foods, such as eggs and yogurt. Avoid sticky or chewy foods, such as candy, steak, or apples, which will only exacerbate the discomfort.


What if My Palate Expander Breaks or Becomes Loose?

Palate expanders can become loose on one side or completely fall out of the mouth for various reasons (e.g., poor eating habits, poor fit of the device’s bands, etc.). If the device is slightly loose, gently push it back. If the device has come out of the mouth completely, place it in a Ziploc bag and store it somewhere safe. In either case, schedule an appointment with your orthodontist on the spot because every day spent with a faulty expander will harm your treatment progress.

In the worst-case scenario, the device can break, either at the solder joint or at the band itself. Such instances are dangerous to your oral health since the broken pieces can slash your cheeks, lips, or the roof of your mouth. Immediately remove the device from your mouth and contact your orthodontist for an emergency appointment.

Dentist and young patient

Start Your Palate Expander at Patuxent Orthodontics!

Contact Patuxent Orthodontics if palate expanders are the solution to your dental woes. Whether you want to learn more about the benefits of palate expanders or have questions about the process, use our live chat or call (240) 802-7217 or send us a message through our contact us page to connect with our friendly staff today and book a complimentary orthodontic consultation! Our office, located at 44220 Airport View Dr., Hollywood, MD 20636, proudly serves Maryland’s Patuxent area, as well as the Greater Washington DC area. So, if you’re residing in Hollywood, Wildewood, or Leonardtown and are looking for one of the best orthodontists in Maryland, don’t hesitate to visit our office! We also invite you to keep up with our blog to get answers to many of the frequently asked questions about maintaining sparkling oral health and follow us on Facebook and Instagram to become a part of our smiling community!

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