Certain orthodontic techniques have shifted over the last several years, especially the increased introduction of orthodontic expanders. In the past, it was common to extract teeth in order to create space in the mouth. Now, orthodontists are trying to save healthy teeth by expanding the arches to correct crowding issues. Expanding the arches is successful in creating more space in the mouth in most cases, but it may cause large gaps to form between the teeth. This can be unnerving for patients and their families.
When to Use an Expander
The roof of the mouth contains two bones which are joined in the middle. When children are young, these bones are joined together by cartilage. At around the age of 14, this cartilage begins to be replaced by bone. If patients can be treated prior to this period of maturation, the roof of the mouth can actually be expanded to help avoid tooth crowding. It is important to treat patients long before the bones begin to permanently fuse.
Appearance of a Tooth Gap
When the expander begins to work, a large gap will typically appear between the top front teeth. This is a sign that the two bones of the palate have been separated. The gap will disappear after further orthodontic treatment. While it may be uncomfortable because of the altered appearance, patients should rest assured that this gap is temporary and necessary to effectively correct misalignments caused by crowding.
After the palate has been widened, orthodontists will leave the expander in for a few weeks to several months in order to allow the body to adjust to the newly expanded palate. New bone may form to accommodate the spacing. The teeth may begin to come back together because of the elasticity of the gums and the gap may diminish or disappear even before the expander is removed. This is also normal, but does not happen in every case. After the expander is removed, the palate may come back together slightly. Orthodontists typically anticipate this change by expanding the palate slightly more than needed.
Advantages of Using an Expander
An expander can help patients to avoid costly surgeries and treatments later. Crowding issues may cause teeth to become painful or to rot. An expander will help to naturally make space in the mouth. Expanders can be used even before a patient’s permanent teeth erupt so that the teeth can come in comfortably and free from complications.