Palatal expansion works to widen the upper jaw using a device. If an orthodontist has recommended palatal expansion, it means that it is necessary to widen the jaw for best function. Failure to follow the recommendation for palatal expansion may result in complications with jaw and tooth development. These complications may cause difficulties with chewing and speaking, as well as abnormalities in the appearance of the teeth or mouth.
Benefits of Palatal Expansion
Widening the jaw may improve the alignment of the jaws and teeth, which can help to eliminate or prevent complications with chewing and speech. Having the jaw widened before permanent teeth erupt may help patients to avoid extractions, in many cases. In some cases, palatal expansion may help younger patients avoid braces and other costly treatments that would be needed to correct misalignments later in life.
How Palatal Expanders Work
Palatal expansion must be done before the growth plate on the roof of the mouth fuses together, which generally happens between the ages of 14 and 16. Prior to the fusion, the palate is in two parts that are joined together by a suture. The palatal expander works to ease this suture apart. New bone grows to reconnect the two halves of the palate after expansion. The palatal expander may also strategically move specific teeth during the process. The process of palatal expansion is usually complete within several weeks to several months.
Palatal Expander Placement
The palatal expander is placed in the mouth at an orthodontic office. The orthodontist attaches the expander to several of the upper back teeth. This may be done using bands around the teeth or plastic that is bonded over the teeth. Some palatal expanders are removable and some are fixed. After the palatal expander has been placed, patients must turn it every day in order to gradually widen the palate.
Palatal Expansion Expectations
After having a palatal expander placed, many patients feel pressure on the teeth, in the roof of the mouth, and sometimes behind the eyes. This pressure will generally fade within a few minutes. The pressure may recur when the expander is turned, but patients will usually get used to this feeling relatively quickly. As the palate expands, gaps may appear between the teeth. This is normal and teeth will shift to fill the gaps after the palatal expander has been removed.
Caring for Palatal Expanders
Fixed palatal expanders should be brushed along with the teeth after meals and consumption of sugary beverages. The mouth should also be rinsed thoroughly after each cleaning to avoid buildup. Removable palatal expanders should be cleaned meticulously each day after removal. Failure to properly clean palatal expanders may result in tooth decay and other complications.