A major benefit of receiving orthodontic treatment in childhood is that it’s possible to take full advantage of a child’s own natural growth process to treat or even prevent malocclusions (“bad bites”). A palatal expander is a device designed to help us do that.
Palatal expanders create more space in a child’s mouth by gradually widening the upper jaw. It’s really quite easy — both to do and to tolerate. That’s because the upper jaw actually develops as two separate halves that don’t completely fuse together until sometime after puberty. Before that happens, the two bones can gently be separated and stabilized over a period of several months.
The three situations that most commonly call for maxillary expansion:
Crossbite — When a child’s upper jaw is too narrow to fit correctly with the lower jaw, the back top teeth will bite inside of the lower teeth instead of outside. This can be corrected by expanding the upper jaw.
Crowding — Even before all of a child’s permanent (adult) teeth come in, we can tell when there will not be enough room to accommodate them. Widening the upper jaw can create the necessary space without the need for tooth extractions.
Impacted Teeth — When a tooth that hasn’t come in (erupted) yet and is blocked by other teeth, widening the upper jaw can allow it to erupt into proper position on its own. This most often happens with canine teeth — the pointier ones located directly under the eyes.
Other benefits: Upper jaw expansion can broaden the smile in an aesthetically pleasing way, it can limit the number of teeth that need to be removed by creating space and expanders can improve breathing by increasing nasal volume and decreasing resistance to nasal airflow.
How Expanders Work: An expander is custom-made for each individual and fits over several top teeth in the back of the mouth. The appliance has two halves that are connected in the middle with a screw. To activate the device, you simply turn the screw a very small amount every other day (or as directed) with a special key. This induces tension at the junction of the two palatal bones, causing them to gradually move apart. Once the desired expansion is achieved, we will leave the appliance in for a few more months to allow new bone to form in the gap and stabilize the expansion. Generally, expanders are worn for 6-12 months altogether.
To find out if your child can benefit from an expander schedule your complimentary exam with Dr Reagin at 843-871-4411