Everything You Need to Know About Palatal Expanders

As trained orthodontists, Dr. Clayton and Dr. Waters have years of training and experience in straightening teeth and correcting jaw development and facial growth issues. They do this using a variety of orthodontic appliances, including palatal expanders. This important tool helps prevent or eliminate more severe jaw and teeth problems that may not leave enough room for the permanent teeth to grow correctly. 

At Innovative Orthodontics, we believe that everyone deserves healthy, beautiful smiles! We’re committed to giving patients a lifetime of healthy smiles in Savannah, Rincon, and Pooler. Let’s take a closer look at what palatal expanders are, how they work, and what they can do to improve your child’s smile!

What is a palatal expander? 

A palatal expander is a device that works with the natural changes that occur as the teeth and jaw develop to create more space in a child’s mouth by gradually widening the upper jaw. This may sound a little scary, but the upper jaw develops as two separate halves that don’t entirely fuse until after puberty. Each half can be gently separated and stabilized with a palatal expander until that time. This treatment is time-sensitive because expanders work with the teeth and jaw as they grow. 

Palatal expanders have two pieces that connect in the middle with a screw. They’re customized to fit over a few top teeth in the back of a child’s mouth and activated by turning the screw in tiny increments each day with a special key. This creates tension at the junction of the two palatal bones, gradually moving them apart. Once we reach the desired expansion, Dr. Clayton or Dr. Waters will keep the appliance in place for a few more months so the new bone can form in the gap and stabilize the expansion. Palatal expanders are typically worn for about 6 months in total.

Who can benefit from palatal expanders?

Permanent teeth usually replace children’s baby teeth between 6 and 13. Some children have too small jaws to accommodate their adult teeth, leading to crowded teeth and misalignment. Palatal expanders can be beneficial in many of these cases by: 

  • reducing or eliminating overcrowding—expanders create space for all of a child’s upper teeth to erupt in the correct positions
  • reducing the risk of developing impacted teeth—when other teeth block an unerupted tooth, we can create room for it to emerge by widening the upper jaw
  • correcting a crossbite—the upper teeth should close around the outside of the lower teeth, but a narrow palate can cause the upper teeth to bite inside the lower teeth. An expander can correct this before serious asymmetrical jaw growth, restoring facial symmetry.

Expanding the upper jaw with a palatal expander can also improve a child’s smile aesthetically, limiting tooth extraction and may shorten treatment time if a child is fitted for braces or clear aligners later on. 

Everything You Need to Know About Palatal Expanders

The different types of palatal expanders

The palatal expander used for your child will depend on their age and the unique shape of their palate. There are fixed and removable options, and every expander we use is custom-made and fitted by Dr. Clayton or Dr. Waters to complement the child’s natural palate shape and size. The most common types of palatal expanders include the following:

Rapid palatal expander

The rapid palatal expander, or RPE, is one of the standard expander types. It has a center screw with four branches attached to the paralleled back teeth of the upper jaw. You’ll get a small key to activate the center screw each day, turning it in small measures to create tension on the two palatal bones. Over time, this will widen the palate to the desired size and shape. 

Removable palatal expander

The removable palatal expander is also common when treating children and is often used in cases that require only minimal expansion. The device is similar to a clear retainer, like those we give patients once orthodontic treatment is done, but it also contains a center screw. This center screw works similarly to the RPE and requires the same gentle daily expansion for 3-6 months.

Everything You Need to Know About Palatal Expanders

Find your child’s healthiest smile at Innovative Orthodontics

Orthodontic care can benefit patients of all ages, including children. A child’s mouth changes rapidly, with a great deal of shifting and moving as the baby teeth are lost, and the permanent teeth erupt. If there’s a misalignment or other issue, it’s often easier to treat at a younger age as the jaw and palate are still developing. 

Experienced orthodontists like Dr. Clayton and Dr. Waters can identify potential problems and encourage a healthier smile using the appropriate orthodontic tools, including palatal expanders. 

If you’re looking to improve your child’s oral health, we’d love to meet you both and see how their smile is developing so far! Get in touch today to schedule a FREE consultation with our offices in Savannah, Rincon, or Pooler.