Palate Expander: What It Is and Why It’s Needed

August 31, 2018
Jason K. Bunch, DDS, MS

In the words of American writer Anthony J. D’Angelo: “Smile, it is the key that fits the lock of everyone’s heart.” A bit cheesy, but also a great description of the role a palate expander plays in straightening our patients’ teeth.

Palate Expander: What It Is and Why It's Needed

A very common tool of orthodontic treatment, this metal appliance applies gentle pressure on the roof of the mouth and upper jaw in order to prevent, reduce, or correct the severity of jaw and teeth problems. Palate expanders are designed to capitalize on changes in the early development of your teeth and jaw, and work best at a young age.

Read on for more info on why and how we use the palate expander in all of our Central Indiana offices.

Healthier Teeth Can Mean a Healthier Heart

When We Use a Palate Expander

There are a few situations that require us to place a palate expander:

  • Teeth Crowding: According to the American Dental Association, baby teeth are typically replaced with permanent teeth by age 13. Unfortunately, as those teeth come in, they leave some of our patients with insufficient space in the jaw and prevent adult teeth from erupting correctly. Using a palate expander for better alignment helps solve this issue, hopefully before we need to extract any teeth.
  • Impacted Teeth: If you are already experiencing crowded teeth, then teeth that haven’t started erupting yet may be blocked and trapped in the roof of the mouth, requiring oral surgery to allow them to come in.
  • Posterior Crossbite: When your upper teeth become too close to the back part of your lower teeth, this can result in a narrow palate, which causes the back of the upper teeth to bite into the lower teeth.
  • Trouble Breathing: If you experience a high palate or narrow arch, your air passages may need to be widened in order to make breathing easier.

How Palate Expanders Work

We affix the palate expander to molars of the upper jaw with metal rings. In order to stretch the cartilage and bone of the palate, patients turn a key in the center of the expander each day, extending the arms of the palate expanders 1-2 millimeters per week and gently separating and stretching the flexible cartilage in the roof of your mouth. (Don’t worry! Our orthodontic team thoroughly walks through how to operate the palate expander when we first place the appliance.)

This process can take several weeks, though we typically keep expanders in the mouth for approximately one year. After this time, the expansion of the upper jaw is stable and does not require a retainer to keep the jaw and teeth in proper alignment.

What to Expect With a Palate Expander

While it may be a little slow going at the beginning of treatment, you’ll be able to see progress when a gap begins to open between your front teeth.

It’s not uncommon for an expander to feel bulky and uncomfortable at first. It may also cause excess salivation and impaired speech during the adjustment period. Until you feel fully adjusted to the palate expanders, we suggest eating non-sticky foods that do not require much chewing — such as soup, mashed potatoes, yogurt, pudding and ice cream.

While wearing a palate expander, it’s critical to maintain a routine oral hygiene routine. Food and other debris can easily get trapped in your palate expander. Brush your teeth twice a day and floss daily in order to avoid cavities and tooth decay. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids with meals and snacks, and swish with water after eating to remove any food that may have gotten stuck.

. . .

It’s important to understand that palate expanders do not take the place of traditional braces or Invisalign. Instead, they help to reduce the treatment timeline by addressing teeth and jaw issues early, aiding in the development of a beautiful smile.

If you think your child may benefit from a free consultation to determine if they are in need of a palate expander, reach out to us today. We’re here to help!


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