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Palatal Expander

Orthodontic treatment is often most effective in childhood when it’s possible to take full advantage of the natural growth process to correct malocclusions (incorrect bites). A palatal expander is a device that is designed to do exactly that and may be suggested by Dr. Griffin.

How a Palatal Expander Works

A palatal expander gradually expands the upper jaw, creating more space in the child’s mouth. Although this may sound traumatic, it is a well-tolerated, effective treatment. This is because the upper jaw is composed of two separate bones that don’t fuse completely together into one until after the age of puberty. Before that time, a palatal expander can be utilized to gently separate and stabilize these bones (maxillary expansion) over a period of several months.

Each expander is custom-made and fits over several back top teeth. It’s composed of two halves connected by a screw in the middle. To utilize the device, you will use a special key to turn the screw a very small amount each day. This causes tension, gradually moving the two palatal bones apart.

Once Dr. Griffin determines the correct position has been achieved, the expander will be left in place for a few more months allowing new bone to form and stabilize the expansion. The total treatment time is usually 3 – 6 months.

When a Palatal Expander Might be Used

There are three common conditions that call for maxillary expansion. The first, a crossbite, is when the upper jaw is too narrow, causing it to fit incorrectly with the bottom jaw. The back teeth on top settle inside the lower teeth instead of outside. Expanding the upper jaw will effectively correct this.

Crowding is another issue that can be solved with a palatal expander. Even before all the adult teeth come in, Dr. Griffin can tell there will not be enough room for them. The necessary space can be created by widening the jaw, eliminating the need for tooth extractions.

Impacted teeth (those that are blocked from coming in by other teeth) can be allowed to come in (erupt) into their proper position by widening the jaw. The canine teeth (located directly under the eyes) are the teeth impacted most often.

Expanding the upper jaw can also limit the number of teeth that need to be removed to create space, broaden the smile for aesthetic reasons, and it may also improve breathing. Lastly, it can shorten the time your child will need to wear braces.

What to Expect

When the expander is activated, there may be a feeling of pressure or some soreness for several minutes after the key is turned. Until their tongue adjusts to the appliance, your child may also find that eating and speaking feels strange. A gap may develop between the front teeth, and this is completely normal. It shows that the expander is working. When your child’s permanent teeth arrive, they will be aligned beautifully, with the perfect amount of space between them.