A palatal expander is a metal appliance commonly used in early orthodontic treatment to widen the upper jaw bone and create sufficient space for a healthy set of permanent teeth to grow without crowding or overlapping. It also helps correct crossbites when the posterior upper and lower teeth do not fit together the way they should.
We’re here to provide you with all of the information you need to make the best decision for you or your child’s smile!
This appliance is most effective when the jaw bones are still developing and the permanent teeth are erupting through the gums. The optimal palatal expander age is generally between ages 7 and 12.
Adults can still benefit from a palatal expander, but they most often require an implant-supported expander or a surgically-assisted expander if their jaw bones have stopped developing.
This appliance uses small metal bands, positioned around the upper molars, with a screw piece that sits in the center of the roof of the mouth.
You’ll insert a special key into the center screw and rotate the key backwards, toward your throat. This is considered one full turn. Activating the expander will trigger it to exert gentle outward pressure on the upper teeth.
Over time, these tiny turns will expand the upper jaw to the desired width. Once the jaw bone is properly expanded, you or your child will continue to wear the appliance for a few months to prevent the bones and teeth from reverting to their original position.
The most common type of palatal expander is the RPE (rapid palatal expander). This one is bonded to the teeth and remains in place, through the day and night, for at least six months. The RPE is activated each day to gradually expand the jaw.
For patients who only require a little jaw expansion, the removable palatal expander may be used. This one is similar to a Hawley retainer and expands the jaw similarly to the RPE, but isn’t bonded in the mouth.
An implant-supported expander is most often used for adults whose jaw bones are done developing. This one has four small implants that are embedded into the maxillary bone (upper jaw bone).
Also used for adults whose jaw bones are done developing, the SARPE (surgically-assisted rapid palatal expander) expands the jaw through a surgical orthodontic approach.
The expansion process can sound a bit intimidating, but you can rest assured that plenty of people have undergone successful treatment with palatal expanders and experienced life-changing benefits!
You should not experience any palatal expander pain at any point in your treatment. Your appliance will be custom-designed to fit your mouth, and it won’t expand without you activating it.
When you turn the key, you may experience a slight tingling around the bridge of your nose, but this feeling should go away within a few minutes.
After about a week or two wearing the expander, most people are used to this mild sensation!
It is very common for a gap to develop between the patient’s top front teeth when using a palatal expander since half of the teeth are moving to the right and the other half to the left as the upper jaw expands. This gap is only temporary and most of the time it closes by itself partially or completely. Any gap that remains after that will be closed through the rest of your orthodontic treatment.
The cost of your expander will be factored into your personalized treatment plan. Your treatment cost will depend on a few things, including the severity of your condition, the length of your treatment, and the payment plan you choose.