One of the most compelling reasons to start orthodontic treatment early in a child’s life is that the natural growth process allows for easier and faster changes when a child is young. This is especially evident when the treatment involves widening the upper jaw. A palatal expander is the appliance your orthodontist utilized to gradually make more room for teeth in the upper jaw.

Palatal expanders work very well and its tolerated very well because the upper jaw actually develops as two separate halves that don’t completely fuse together until sometime after puberty. Your orthodontist is able to affect gentle separation and stabilization of the upper jaw over a period of several months. It’s easy and not scary at all!

The three situations that call for doing maxillary (upper jaw) expansion are:

  • Crossbite – If the upper jaw is too narrow to fit correctly with the lower jaw, the back top teeth will bite inside of the lower teeth instead of outside. This is corrected by expanding the upper jaw with the palatal expander.
  • Crowding – When your child is examined, we will be able to determine if there will be a challenge to accommodate the adult teeth (permanent) coming soon. Widening the upper jaw creates the necessary space and can prevent the need for tooth extractions.
  • Impacted Teeth – Sometimes we will discover a tooth hasn’t come in yet (erupted) and is blocked by other teeth. Widening the upper jaw allows the tooth the space it needs to arrive, right into place! We find this most often happens with the “canine” or “eye teeth”.
  • Improving Airways – When the mouth (jaws) are widened, it makes more room for the tongue to move forward out of the pharynx into the mouth.

Aside from the functional advantages noted above, expansion of the upper jaw can have other benefits. For example, expanding the upper jaw can broaden the smile in an aesthetically pleasing way and even improve breathing. Use of a palatal expander when called for, can shorten overall orthodontic treatment time, meaning your child might see less time in braces!

How Expanders Work

The palatal expander will be custom made for your child and fits over the teeth in the back of the mouth. The appliance has two halves that are connected in the middle with a screw along with a lock and titanium spring. ONE THING THAT SETS OUR PRACTICE APART FROM OTHER PRACTICES IS THAT THE PARENT IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR TURNING THE EXPANDER, like the example on the right. Your orthodontist activates the titanium spring with in our office every 8 weeks. This induces tension at the junction of the two palatal bones, causing them to gradually move apart. Once the desired expansion is achieved, we will leave the appliance in for a few more months to allow new bone to form in the gap and stabilize the expansion.

What to Expect

Most kids say they can feel some soreness or a feeling of pressure for a few minutes after the key is turned, but activating an expander actually causes less discomfort than having braces tightened. Your child may find that speaking and eating feels different at first as the tongue adjusts to the presence of the appliance. It is also completely normal to see a gap develop between the front teeth. This shows that the expander is having the desired effect. When all is said and done, your child’s permanent teeth will be beautifully aligned with neither too much nor too little space between them. Beautiful results in a few months is what you can expect!