Everything You Need to Know About Palatal Expanders

As an orthodontist, Dr. Nirenblatt has years of training and experience in straightening teeth and correcting jaw development and facial growth issues. He does this using a variety of orthodontic appliances, including palatal expanders. This important tool helps prevent or eliminate more severe jaw and teeth problems that may not leave enough room for the permanent teeth to grow correctly. 

At Nirenblatt Orthodontics, we believe that everyone should have their best smiles! We’re committed to giving patients a lifetime of healthy smiles in North Charleston, West Ashley, and Summerville. Let’s take a closer look at what palatal expanders are, how they work, and what they can do to improve your child’s smile!

What is a palatal expander? 

A palatal expander is a device designed to capitalize on the changes that occur as the teeth and jaw develop. They help create more space in a child’s mouth by gradually widening the upper jaw. This may sound a little scary, but the upper jaw develops as two separate halves that don’t entirely fuse until after puberty. Each half can be gently separated and stabilized with a palatal expander until that time. This treatment is time-sensitive because expanders work with the teeth and jaw as they grow. 

Palatal expanders consist of two pieces that connect in the middle with a screw. They’re customized to fit over a few top teeth in the back of a child’s mouth and activated by turning the screw in tiny increments each day with a special key. This creates tension at the junction of the two palatal bones, gradually moving them apart. Once the desired expansion is achieved, Dr. Nirenblatt will usually keep the appliance in place for a few more months so the new bone can form in the gap and stabilize the expansion. Palatal expanders are typically worn for about 9 to 12 months in total.

We have recently transitioned to 3D printed Expanders which do not require spacers or metal bands and no gooey impressions! We use our iTero Scanner just like we do with our clear aligners. This is a game changer in terms of shorter patient appointment time and comfort.

Who can benefit from palatal expanders?

Permanent teeth usually replace children’s baby teeth between 6 and 13. Some children have jaws that are too small to accommodate their adult teeth, leading to crowded teeth and misalignment. Palatal expanders can be beneficial in many of these cases by: 

  • reducing or eliminating overcrowding—expanders create space for all of a child’s upper teeth to erupt in the correct positions
  • reducing the risk of developing impacted teeth—when an unerupted tooth is blocked by other teeth, we can create room for it to emerge by widening the upper jaw
  • correcting a crossbite—the upper teeth should close around the outside of the lower teeth, but a narrow palate can cause the upper teeth to bite inside the lower teeth. An expander can correct this before serious asymmetrical jaw growth occurs, restoring facial symmetry.

Expanding the upper jaw with a palatal expander can also improve a child’s smile aesthetically, limiting the need for tooth extraction and may shorten treatment time if a child is fitted for braces or clear aligners later on. Everything You Need to Know About Palatal Expanders

The different types of palatal expanders

The type of palatal expander used for your child will depend on their age and the unique shape of their palate. There are fixed and removable options, and every expander we use is custom-made and fitted by Dr. Nirenblatt to complement the child’s natural palate shape and size. The most common types of palatal expanders include the following. Three common types of dental palate expanders include:

Rapid palatal expander

The rapid palatal expander, or RPE, is one of the more standard expander types. It has a center screw with four branches attached to the paralleled back teeth of the upper jaw. You’ll get a small key to activate the center screw each day, turning it in small measures to create tension on the two palatal bones. Over time, this will widen the palate to the desired size and shape. 

Removable palatal expander

The removable palatal expander is also common when treating children and is often used in cases that require only minimal expansion. The device is similar to a clear retainer, like those we give patients once orthodontic treatment is done, but it also contains a center screw. This center screw works similarly to the RPE and requires the same gentle daily expansion for 3-6 months.

Mini-implant assisted rapid palatal expander

If your child begins treatment with Nirenblatt Orthodontics early enough, it’s unlikely they will need a mini-implant assisted rapid palatal expander (MARPE.) We typically use these with patients who require more powerful pressure to reshape their palates, like older teens and young adults. 

A MARPE includes two to four mini-implants placed on parallel palatal bones. There is also a center screw that works similarly to other palatal expanders, but instead of applying pressure to the teeth, it applies pressure directly to the palatal bones.Everything You Need to Know About Palatal Expanders

Find your child’s healthiest smile at Nirenblatt Orthodontics

Orthodontic care can benefit patients of all ages, including children. A child’s mouth changes rapidly, with a great deal of shifting and moving as the baby teeth are lost, and the permanent teeth grow in. If there’s a misalignment or other issue, it’s often easier to treat at a younger age as the jaw and palate are still developing. 

An experienced orthodontist like Dr. Nirenblatt will be able to identify any potential problems and encourage a healthier smile using the appropriate orthodontic tools, including palatal expanders. 

If you’re looking to improve your child’s oral health, we’d love to meet you both and take a look at how their smile is developing so far! Get in touch today to schedule a FREE consultation with our North Charleston, West Ashley, or Summerville office.