Braces, headgear, retainers: it’s as if the list of orthodontic tools used to straighten will never end! Orthodontics is a branch of dentistry that corrects teeth and jaw alignments that are improperly positioned. The misalignment or overcrowding of teeth may make it more difficult to bite, clean, or chew. In some cases, to make room for those beautiful, straight pearly-whites, orthodontists or pediatric dentists may recommend a palatal expander.
So, what is a palatal expander and what does it treat?
A palatal expander is a device used to widen the upper jaw so the bottom and upper teeth will fit better together. This appliance can prevent, reduce, or correct the severity of teeth and jaw alignment thus leaving room for the growth of teeth. The palatal expander works by expanding the roof of the mouth and upper jaw. Some conditions that may be treated with a palatal expander are:
- Teeth Crowding
- Posterior Crossbite
- Impacted Teeth
- Breathing Problems
By implementing the palatal expander, your child may experience a better bite, better teeth alignment by creating space for teeth to grow in, and widened air passages making breathing easier.
How long will my child need a palatal expander?
Like many things in the dental industry, the length of treatment can depend on the amount of correction needed and the age of the patient. Typically, palatal expanders are left in place for four to six months depending on the palatal expansion process chosen for treatment. There are four types of palatal expansion processes:
Rapid Palatal Expansion (RPE)
Rapid Palatal Expansion, or RPE, is a technique in which the upper jaw is expanded 0.5mm to 1mm per day until the posterior crossbite is relieved. This mechanism works by turning a key inside the center of the expander thus pushing out the arms of the appliance and expanding the roof of the mouth.
As the name suggests, slow expansion requires more time for treatment, and expands the upper jaw at a much slower rate than the Rapid Palatal Expansion Process. During the process, the patient must turn the jackscrew within the expander at the same rate for 8 to 11 weeks.
This technique involves the forces being applied directly to the upper jaw bone rather than the teeth through 2-4 mini-implants in the palatal vault area connected to the jaw bone. During this process, the patient must turn the jackscrew within the expander with the rapid approach over the following 2 weeks.
Surgically Assisted Rapid Palatal Expansion (SARPE)
In some cases, mostly associated with age, palatal halves may fuse together onto the same palate tissue. If this happens, the expander will need to be surgically implemented into the mid-palatal suture.
Depending on the severity of the condition and the palatal expanding process chosen, the length of treatment can vary and should be discussed with Dr. Gladwell. The road to healthy, shining, straight teeth may take time, but with the help of your orthodontist and some dental appliances, you’re well on your way!