Palate Expander: When Do You Need One?

Orthodontists don’t normally talk about how palate expander slowly break the bone of the upper mouth. That would scare their patient, who are usually adolescents.

But it’s true. An expander slowly separates the bone and cartilage in the upper jaw in order to make the mouth bigger.

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What Is a Palate Expander?

Your palate is another name for the roof of your mouth. And a palate expander, you guessed it, enlarged your upper mouth.

The reason orthodontists do this is to help the growth of a young person’s natural growth so they don’t end up with a bad bite (aka a malocclusion). Palate expanders create more room in a child’s mouth by gradually expanding the upper jaw. It sounds terrifying, but it’s done gradually enough that it’s tolerable.

The palate actually grows as two halves that are not fully fused together until after puberty. So in pre-pubescent kids, a palate expander can help create more space for teeth to grow in.

A palate expander is an orthodontic device that widens the upper jaw.

When Do You Need An Orthodontic Expander?

In most cases, there are three situations in which a child may need a palate expander.

The first is if they have a crossbite. This is when the child’s upper jaw is much more narrow then the lower jaw, which leads to the top back teeth are inside the lower back teeth while biting.

Another reason a kid may need a palate expander is if they have crowding. Before a child’s adult teeth grow in, orthodontists are able to see if there will be enough room for those teeth. So widening the upper jaw can provide enough space for those new teeth to come in.

The last situation where a palate expander may be used is with impacted teeth. This is when a tooth that’s trying to grow in is blocked by other teeth. Expanding the upper jaw provides some space for that new tooth to come in. This is most typical with the canine teeth.

Best Age For Palatal Expander

A palate expander is really only effective in a small age window, typically in pre-pubescent children before their sutures are fully grown and closed.

For girls, the age limit is usually 12-13 years old and 13-14 years old for boys (can vary from child to child). A palate expander can be used in kids older than this, but they are not nearly as effective.

If a crossbite, crowded teeth, or impacted teeth are not caught and corrected early, it can lead to long-term dental issues.

A palate expander is used most often in adolescents when they have a crossbite, crowded teeth, or impacted teeth.

Palate Expander Pictures

How A Brace Expander Works?

A palate expander (aka a brace expander) can also be used on the lower jaw. Let’s take a look at the differences between an upper and lower jaw expander.

Lower Jaw Expander

When lower teeth are crowded, an orthodontist can also place an expander in the lower jaw. However, a lower jaw expander doesn’t actually expand the jaw because the lower arch doesn’t have a suture to be closed. So a lower expander simply moves the teeth.

A lower expander can straighten teeth that are leaning inward or it can just spread the lower teeth out, as long as there is enough gum tissue and bone around the roots.

Upper Jaw Expander

As we mentioned earlier, an upper jaw expander stretches the palate, which consists of bone and cartilage.

The expander is gradually widened over a period of months in order to stretch out the cartilage of the palate. This usually causes a gap to form in your front teeth, but not to worry — the orthodontist will most likely prescribe a retainer to help close it.

An upper jaw expander stretches the cartilage and bone of the palate. A lower jaw expander shifts the teeth themselves, not the jaw bone.

Palate Expander Pain

At first, the palate expander may feel uncomfortable and bulky. And when the parent turns the palate expander to widen it, it will probably cause some pressure on the roof of the mouth, the tongue, and in the area of the nose and eyes. However, that pressure will fade.

Wearing a palate expander will involve some pain and discomfort, but it should subside.

Palate Expander Side Effects

On top of discomfort and pain, a palate expander can lead to other side effects. Here are a few of them:

  • Headaches
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Extra saliva
  • Gap in front teeth
  • Food debris getting lodge in between expander and the roof of your mouth

Orthodontic Expander FAQ

Now let’s cover some of the most common questions in regard to palate expanders.

How Do You Turn A Palate Expander?

After the orthodontist places the palate expander in a child’s mouth, it will be up to their parent or guardian to turn the expander at regular intervals. The turning of the device widens it, thus widening the upper jaw. The orthodontist will send the patient home with a key that inserts into an opening in the device as well as instructions.

How Long Do You Need To Use Mouth Expander?

Usually, you’ll only need the expander for 1-3 weeks, but some patients may need to wear one for as long as 6 months. This extra time allows the bone in the mouth to form and mature.

What Diet Restrictions Exist With An Expander?

While wearing an expander, the child should avoid sticky and hard foods and candies. This includes popcorn, ice, crunchy chips, corn on the cob, and most candy.

How Much Do Palatal Expanders Cost?

The cost of a palate expander depends on where you live and what orthodontist you visit, but, generally, the treatment can cost between $2,000 and $3,000. Fortunately, insurance usually covers the cost as it’s often a necessary treatment for a healthy mouth.

How To Keep Oral Hygiene With A Palate Expander?

Anytime you have a orthodontic device in your mouth, there’s more chance of bacteria buildup, so having good oral hygiene is important. With a palate expander, it’s important to brush around and underneath it as best as possible. It may be worth investing in a water flosser, which shoots a stream of water into the mouth that can dislodge food debris and wash away bacteria.

Summary

  • A palate expander is an orthodontic device that widens the upper jaw.
  • A palate expander is used most often in adolescents when they have a crossbite, crowded teeth, or impacted teeth.
  • An upper jaw expander stretches the cartilage and bone of the palate. A lower jaw expander shifts the teeth themselves, not the jaw bone.
  • Wearing a palate expander will involve some pain and discomfort, but it should subside.
  • Side effects of a palate expander include headaches, difficulty speaking, extra saliva, a gap in the front teeth, and food debris getting lodge in between expander and the roof of your mouth.