As an orthodontist, Dr. Thomas Kovacs has years of training and experience in straightening teeth and correcting jaw development and facial growth issues. He can accomplish this using a variety of orthodontic appliances, including palatal expanders. This tool helps prevent or even eliminate severe jaw and teeth problems that may not leave enough room for the permanent teeth to grow correctly. Let’s explore everything you need to know about palatal expanders and how they can improve your child’s smile!
What is a palatal expander?
A palatal expander is a device that capitalizes on changes 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 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. Because expanders work with the teeth and jaw as they grow, this treatment is time-sensitive.
Palatal expanders have 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 we achieve the desired expansion, Dr. Kovacs 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. Patients typically wear palatal expanders for about 9 to 12 months.
Who can benefit from palatal expanders?
Children usually lose their baby teeth and grow their permanent teeth between 6 and 13. Some children have too small jaws to accommodate their adult teeth, which can lead 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 other teeth block an unerupted tooth, we can create room for it to emerge by widening the upper jaw
- correcting a crossbite—the upper teeth should be able to 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, 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 with braces or clear aligners in our Billings or Miles City offices.
The different types of palatal expanders
The palatal expander we use for your child will depend on their age and the unique shape of their palate. There are fixed and removable options, and Dr. Kovacs custom-makes every expander we use to complement the child’s natural palate shape and size. Three common types of dental palate expanders include:
Rapid palatal expander
The rapid palatal expander, or RPE, is one of the standard expander types. It has a center screw with four branches attached to the upper jaw’s paralleled back teeth. We’ll give you 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 in cases that require only minimal expansion. The device looks like a clear retainer we give patients after orthodontic treatment, but it contains a center screw. This center screw works similarly to the RPE and requires the same gentle daily expansion for 3-6 months.
A mini-implant-assisted rapid palatal expander
If your child begins treatment with Kovacs 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 on parallel palatal bone points. 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.
Find your child’s healthiest smile at Kovacs Orthodontics
Orthodontic care can benefit patients of all ages, including children. Children’s mouths change rapidly, with a great deal of shifting and moving as the baby teeth are lost and the permanent teeth erupt. If a misalignment or other issue is present, it’s often easier to treat at a younger age as the jaw and palate are still developing.
Experienced orthodontists, like Dr. Kovacs, can identify any potential problems and encourage a healthier smile using orthodontic tools like palatal expanders.
If you’re looking to improve your child’s oral health, we’d love to meet you both and see how their smile is developing so far! Get in touch today to schedule a FREE consultation with our Billings or Miles City office.