Palatal Expanders for Jaw Alignment – All You Need to Know

A misaligned upper jaw can be a real struggle. It is a condition where the upper jaw is either smaller than the lower jaw or set back. It could be hereditary or due to the lack of development in the upper jaw. And addressing the problem of the crooked jaw is essential since it affects your appearance and your health too.

Let’s look at a few issues crooked or misaligned jaw can create:

  • It makes the cheeks look hollow, and the upper lip not appropriately defined.
  • It causes speech disorders and difficulties in chewing.
  • It deteriorates general health.
  • It reduces the resistance in the nasal airway creating a poor respiratory pattern.
  • It can lead to breathing disorders such as OSA (obstructive sleep apnea).
  • It results in less space to align crooked or crowded teeth, which may leave teeth extraction as the only possible solution.
  • It can deviate the lower jaw.
  • It can lead to facial skeletal asymmetry that may, in turn, lead to structural and functional disorders of the stomatognathic system in the long run.

The solution to this problem is maxillary expansion using a palatal expander. But before we understand how it can be done, let’s understand what it is all about.

What Is Maxillary Expansion?

Maxillary expansion, also called rapid maxillary expansion, is a dental procedure that is performed to widen the upper jaw so that the balance between the widths of the jaws is re-established. Harmonizing the width of the jaws by maxillary expansion is done during phase one interceptive orthodontic treatment in children. Doing so is necessary so that dental malpositions can be fixed during the second phase of the treatment.

Why Does Maxillary Expansion Matter?

A narrow jaw affects your facial experience and your health, in the long run, making going for maxillary expansion treatment extremely important. However, many people make the mistake of assuming that this problem gets fixed as we age. The narrow upper maxilla deviates from the mandible with time, which can lead to tooth wear and serious problems such as temporomandibular joint disorder. Moreover, in some cases, fixing crooked teeth gets impossible if maxillary expansion is not done.

What Is A Palatal Expander?

A palatal expander is a tailor-made device that is bonded to the insides of the upper teeth to widen the roof of the mouth. The device works by applying gradual pressure to the rear half of the jaw and creating space for a new bone to be generated. This makes room for crowded teeth to grow, which is required to fix the bite completely.

How Does A Palatal Expander Work?

A palatal expander works in 3 steps:

Step 1:

A metal frame is bonded to the rear teeth in the upper jaw. The device pushes the two halves of the arch apart, resulting in a widened jawbone.

Step 2:

The device has a screw placed in the middle, which must be turned 1 or 2 times every day to activate the appliance. The force separates the two palatal bones united by the suture over around 3 weeks.

Step 3:

Once the bones are separated, the device is allowed to stay in the same place for around 3 months so that the bone tissue is formed in the middle of the palate.

When Do Orthodontists Prescribe Palatal Expanders? 

Your orthodontist will most likely prescribe palatal expanders under these circumstances:

Crossbite:

When the upper set of teeth fits on the inside of the lower set of teeth, your orthodontist may suggest correction by expanding the upper jaw.

Crowding:

The upper jaw needs to be widened when it does not have enough room to accommodate all the teeth. Maxillary expansion through palatal expanders creates the necessary space for teeth without the need for tooth extraction.

Impacted Teeth:

When the growth of a tooth is blocked by other teeth, the jaw can be expanded to create space for it to grow. It is more common in canine teeth.

Proper Age for Palatal Expanders 

A palatal expander generally works till the age the joining bone (suture) in the upper jaw is not fused. And since the bone starts to fuse at the age of 15, the recommended age for treatment in girls is 12-13 years and in boys is 13-14 years.

However, if the suture is fused, surgical orthodontics is an option to consider to be performed in combination with rapid maxillary expansion.

Possible Side-Effect of Maxillary Expansion

Wearing a palatal expander for maxillary expansion can lead to certain side effects which disappear gradually as the treatment progresses.

Here are the main side-effects:

  • Slight pain and discomfort which subsides with time
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty in speaking
  • Extra saliva production
  • Diastema or gap in teeth which is fixed in the next phase of the treatment
  • Sore tongue
  • Extrusion of rear teeth
  • Increase in the thickness of lingual bone and decrease in the thickness of buccal bone
  • Accumulation of food debris in between the roof of the mouth and expanders

FAQs 

  1. How much does a palate expander cost?

The cost of the treatment through palate expander depends on what orthodontist you choose, your location, and the number of appliance checks you go for. In most cases, the cost is anywhere between $2,000 and $3,000.

  1. How to maintain oral hygiene while wearing palate expanders?

  • Brush your teeth thoroughly after every meal and clean the expanders as best as possible.
  • Prevent the accumulation of food particles in the mouth to avoid gum inflammation.
  • Invest in a water flosser to keep the appliance clean.
  • Use a mouthwash containing fluoride every day.
  • Use an electric toothbrush for better cleaning.
  1. How long should I wear palate expanders?

You will need to wear palate expanders for at least 3 months. However, to make sure the bone in the mouth is formed and matured, you may need to wear one for almost 6 months. This duration varies from patient to patient.

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