Palate expanders are oral devices used to remedy several common dental conditions. They’re also called palatal expanders or orthodontic expanders.
These devices are most commonly used in pre-adolescent children, but can also be used in teens and adults. If your child has a crossbite or narrow upper jaw, a dentist may recommend using a palate expander to correct it.
Palate expanders have been in use for many decades. There are several types.
In this article, we’ll go over the different kinds of palate expanders and how they work. We’ll also explain when they’re most effective and why.
Palate expanders are used to slowly expand the roof of the mouth, in order to widen the upper jaw.
Can be used to widen the jaw
A narrow jaw can lack room for proper tooth alignment, which can cause crowded, crooked, and overlapping teeth. Since it reduces gum space, a narrow jaw can also lead to impacted teeth.
Palate expanders widen the upper jaw, making room for a child’s permanent teeth to erupt through the gums into their correct position.
Can be used to correct crossbites
Palate expanders are also used to correct crossbites. A crossbite is a type of dental malocclusion that causes the upper teeth to sit inside the lower teeth. If left untreated, crossbites can cause complications such as:
How they’re constructed
Palate expanders have two halves that are attached to the top back molars on both sides of the jaw. The halves are typically connected together by a screw, which sits high up in the middle of the mouth.
You’ll be given a key to turn the screw, rotating it, on a specified schedule. This keeps pressure on both halves of the jawbone, causing them to widen and move apart.
Palate expanders are custom made. The orthodontist will take an impression of the upper jaw and teeth. This impression will be sent to a laboratory, where they will make an expander that fits perfectly to the mouth.
There are several types of palate expanders. Some are removable, and others are designed to remain fixed in the mouth for several months. You and your orthodontist can decide which type is best for you, based on the type of correction required.
Removable palate expander
If only a small amount of jaw widening is needed, your orthodontist may recommend a removable palate expander. There are several different removal brands.
Removable palate expanders are meant to be worn 24 hours a day, except while eating, playing sports, and brushing teeth. They may only need the screw turned two or three times a week instead of daily or twice daily.
Hyrax rapid palatal expander
This fixed palate expander has bands that are designed to fit snugly around individual back molars. These bands are glued into place on the teeth, securing the expander in place.
The hyrax has a screw situated in its middle, under the roof of the mouth. You will be given a key to turn this screw, with instructions on how to do it.
Quad helix appliance
The quad helix is also a fixed expander that’s glued onto the back molars. This expander is placed into the mouth in a compressed position. It gently opens on its own, over time, and doesn’t require that you do manual adjustments at home.
This fixed expander is also bonded to the back molars. A screw sits in the middle of an acrylic plate, which expands when adjusted. This puts pressure on the palate and teeth.
If you have an expander that requires manual adjusting, your orthodontist will make sure you have a video or written instruction on how to turn the screw. They’ll also give you a calendar or chart, so you can keep track of how often you adjust your expander.
The palate expander will have a row of tiny holes that you’ll be able to see, one at a time, as the screw is turned. You’ll be given a device called a key, which looks like an opened paperclip attached to a handle.
To adjust the palate expander, you insert the key into a small, visible hole in the screw, and rotate toward the back of the mouth. This rotation causes a new hole to appear. The new hole will not appear if the rotation isn’t completed.
Turning the screw may make you nervous at first, but the process is designed to be easy. It’s not foolproof, however.
A common mistake people sometimes make while they’re getting used to the process is to turn the key back toward the front of the mouth before removing it. You can avoid this by taking the key out of the hole as soon as it stops moving backward.
Palate expanders don’t hurt while you’re wearing them. Adjusting them shouldn’t cause pain, either.
When you adjust your expander, you may feel a slight sensation of pressure along the roof of your mouth or a tingling feeling in your teeth. This sensation may extend upward to your nose or eyes. It typically lasts around 5 minutes before dissipating completely.
Just like braces, palate expanders take some getting used to. For a few days, you may be overly aware of the sensations caused by speaking, chewing, and swallowing.
You may also feel conscious of your tongue resting against the expander. Having a raw or full feeling on the roof of your mouth for a day or two is also common.
Getting used to your expander will take about a week. During that time, it may help to eat soft, easy to swallow foods that require a minimal amount of chewing.
Smoothies, scrambled eggs, tofu, and yogurt are all good choices. Avoid chewing gum, hard candies, and sticky or chewy foods such as steak, taffy, or apples.
Using a palate expander often causes a space to form between the two top front teeth. This is normal and an expected side effect of jaw widening. This gap often closes on its own over time. In some instances, wearing braces may be advised.
Temporary side effects of wearing a palate expander may include:
Jawbones don’t form completely until after puberty has occurred. Palate expanders work quickest before the jawbone has solidified and finished growing. That’s why palate expanders are needed for a shorter period of time in children than they are in teenagers or adults.
In children, palate expanders may widen the jaw to the desired size within about 2 to 3 months. The device is left in for an additional 4 to 6 months, while the two sides of the jawbone fuse together and the teeth settle into their correct position.
In older individuals with fully developed jaws, this process may take a year or even longer. It may also not be possible to widen the jaw at all with a standard type of device. In some instances, your orthodontist may recommend a surgically inserted palate expander instead.
It’s very important to keep your teeth, gums, and expander clean and free of bacteria, plaque, and debris. In addition to potentially causing tooth decay, plaque buildup can cause inflammation and swollen gums, which may make your expander hard to adjust.
Continue to brush and floss your teeth regularly, especially after meals. You can use either an electric or manual toothbrush, as recommended by your dentist.
You may also use a mouth rinse squirted into the nooks and crannies of the device.
Avoid eating chewy, sticky, or hard foods. Foods that generate lots of tiny particles, such as nuts and carrots, should also be avoided.
Instruct your child not to chew on hard objects, such as pencils, that may damage the device.
You and your orthodontist can determine if an expander or another type of device or treatment makes the most sense for you.
Braces may be recommended for children or adults to alleviate overcrowded teeth and crossbites.
In some instances, your dentist may recommend that impacted eye teeth be surgically removed to avoid overcrowded or overlapping teeth. Tooth extraction may also be recommended for molars that don’t have room to erupt through the gums.
Young adults with dental conditions that can’t be corrected with orthodontic devices may benefit from jaw surgery.
Palate expanders are dental devices used to correct several conditions, including crossbite and overcrowded teeth.
They’re most effective when used before puberty.
There are several different types of palate expanders. Some can be removed and others are fixed into the mouth.
In children, palate expanders are usually needed for less than a year.