Braces aren’t the only tool orthodontists use—there’s a whole array of appliances that help Dr. Greg Ross, Dr. Jorman Garcia, and Dr. Cassandra Iglesias straighten smiles. Palatal expanders are a common way to create space in a child’s mouth for permanent teeth to erupt. Let’s explore what you need to know about life with a palatal expander and how this device can improve your child’s smile!
What is a palatal expander?
A palatal expander is a device that capitalizes on changes as a child’s teeth and jaw develop. They help create more space in the mouth by gradually widening the upper jaw.
This may sound 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. Expanders work with the teeth and jaw as they grow, so this treatment is time-sensitive.
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, your orthodontist will usually keep the appliance in place for a few more months so the new bone can form in the gap and stabilize the expansion. Patients typically wear palatal expanders for about 9 to 12 months.
Who can benefit from palatal expanders?
Children usually lose their baby teeth and grow permanent 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 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
- and correcting a crossbite—the upper teeth should be able to close around the outside of the lower teeth. Still, 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 the need for tooth extraction. It may shorten treatment time with braces or clear aligners in our Palmetto Bay office.
Types of palatal expanders
The palatal expander we use for your child will depend on their age and the unique shape of their palate. There are fixed and removable options, and we custom-make every expander to complement the child’s natural palate shape and size. Three common types of dental palate expanders include:
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 upper jaw’s paralleled back teeth. We’ll give you a small key to activate the center screw each day, turning it in small measures to create tension on the two palatal bones. This widens the palate to the correct size and shape.
Removable palatal expander
The removable palatal expander is also standard when treating children and in cases that require only minimal expansion. The device looks like a clear retainer we give patients after orthodontic treatment but contains a center screw. This center screw works similarly to the RPE and requires the same gentle daily expansion for 3-6 months.
A mini-implant-assisted rapid palatal expander
If your child begins treatment with Smiles of Palmetto Bay early enough, they will unlikely need a mini-implant assisted rapid palatal expander (MARPE.) We typically use these with patients who require more powerful pressure to reshape their palates, like older teens and young adults.
A MARPE includes two to four mini-implants on parallel palatal bone points. There is also a center screw that works similarly to other palatal expanders, but instead of applying pressure to the teeth, it applies pressure directly to the palatal bones.
Find your child’s healthiest smile at Smiles of Palmetto Bay
Children’s mouths change rapidly, with a great deal of shifting and moving as the baby teeth are lost and the permanent teeth erupt. If a misalignment or other issue is present, it’s often easier to treat at a younger age as the jaw and palate are still developing.
If you want to improve your child’s oral health, we’d love to meet you both and see how their smile is developing! Contact us today to schedule a FREE consultation in Palmetto Bay. We’ll see you soon!