Everything parents need to know about palatal expanders

Rapid palatal expansion (RPE) is a common orthodontic treatment that is used to widen the upper jaw (maxilla) in order to create more space for the teeth. This treatment is often recommended for children and adolescents who have a narrow upper jaw or a crossbite, which is a condition in which the upper and lower jaws are misaligned and the upper teeth bite inside the lower teeth.

Palatal expansion involves the use of a special appliance, called a rapid palatal expander, which is placed on the roof of the mouth (palate). The expander consists of a central screw that can be turned by the orthodontist or the patient using a special key, which gradually widens the upper jaw over time. The expansion process typically takes place over the course of several weeks, and the amount of expansion is carefully controlled to ensure that it is gradual and comfortable for the patient.

One of the key reasons why RPE is so important at a young age is that the bones in the upper jaw are more flexible and easier to move during childhood and adolescence. As we age, our bones become more rigid and it becomes more difficult to make changes to the jaw structure without surgical intervention. This means that RPE is typically more effective and less uncomfortable for younger patients.

In addition to correcting misalignment and creating more space for the teeth, palatal expanders can also have a number of other benefits. It can help to improve the appearance of the smile, make it easier to clean the teeth, and improve the overall function of the mouth. Expanders can also help to reduce the risk of future dental problems, such as tooth decay and gum disease, by ensuring that the teeth are properly aligned. If a crossbite is present, expanders can help to avoid future jaw instability, joint issues such as TMD (temporomandibular joint disfunction), and excessive wear and enamel breakdown.

Overall, palatal expansion is an important treatment that can help to improve the dental health and function of children and adolescents. If your child is experiencing problems with the alignment of their jaws or teeth, it is worth discussing the possibility of expansion with your orthodontist.

NOTE: The author, Dr. Graydon Carr, is a board-certified orthodontist who is in the private practice of orthodontics in Chico, California with his partner Dr. B. Scott Hood. Dr. Graydon Carr was trained at the University of the Pacific, Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry in San Francisco, California, and the University of Nevada at Las Vegas School of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics. Dr. Graydon Carr & Dr. B. Scott Hood’s are experts in two-phase treatment, extraction and non-extraction therapy, functional orthodontics, clear aligners (Invisalign), and multiple bracket systems. This blog is for informational purposes only and is designed to help consumers understand currently accepted orthodontic concepts. It is not a venue for debating alternative treatment theories. Dr. B. Scott Hood & Dr. Graydon Carr are licensed to diagnose and treat patients in the state of California. They cannot diagnose cases described in comments nor can they select treatment plans for readers. The opinions expressed here are protected by copyright laws and can only be used with written permission from the author.