A palate expander gives teeth the space they need to grow within a person’s mouth. Our professional orthodontists at Central Texas Orthodontics in Austin, TX will help you determine whether this is an appropriate treatment for you or your child.
The benefits of this treatment include preventing or minimizing problems of overcrowded teeth. Using palate expanders early is important in the prevention of more intensive and difficult treatments later in life. After your assessment, we will answer all your questions and make sure you understand the treatment process and benefits so that you are confident in your decision going forward.
When Should You Get Palate Expanders?
Toddlers to Age Four
We do not know whether a child will need palate expanding until their molars have come in. Trying to determine whether palatal expanders are necessary before this time is not advisable because there is little way to tell whether the teeth will have crowding problems. Once a child’s molars emerge, around 4 years old, we can begin to make predictions about future teeth growth. Molar location can give us important clues about how future teeth will behave, and whether there will be enough space for them to grow naturally.
However, if you are particularly concerned about crowded teeth in your toddler, you can always talk to your child’s dentist and ask if there are any warning signs that your child’s teeth may be coming in too closely.
Ages Five to Sixteen
After the age of five and up until about sixteen, your child is in the perfect place to reap the most benefits from an expander. At these ages, most of a child’s adult teeth and molars have come in. It is preferable that a few adult teeth in the upper jaw have not yet appeared. We call this the mixed dentition stage. The jawbone is easier to work with and mold into the healthiest shape and position as it is not yet set into place.
Your dentist can help you determine at what age your child will best benefit from this treatment. As a child ages, their jaw becomes stronger and more set, and this can change the steps necessary to treat the problem. Sometimes implants will be used at this stage to help mold the jaw into the right position.
Can Adults Use Palate Expanders?
Usually, this treatment is used for children, but adults can also benefit from it. The treatment will look different for an adult than it would for a child and will usually take longer since the jaw is fully extended and all adult teeth have already grown in. Special techniques may be needed to alter the jaw in adult patients, including implants or surgical options.
How Does it Work?
First, you or your child will want to be examined by a dentist or orthodontist to determine whether an extender is a suitable treatment option. When we examine your teeth, we look at your bite and teeth placement. We look at which, if any, baby teeth are still present and whether the adult teeth are growing naturally. We especially look at whether the molars are emerging and whether they have the space they need in the mouth.
After assessing your particular situation, we will have a conversation with you about the state of your mouth or your child’s mouth and any problems we may have noticed or can see emerging. We make sure to help you understand your options for dealing with any problem areas, and will recommend that you consider a palate expander if necessary.
Custom Made to Fit You
We measure your mouth and molars to provide you with a custom-fitted expander. Bands are set onto the molars to anchor the extender. Spacers may also be used to make space between the molars and teeth to accommodate the bands.
After we have the bands in place, an impression is made of the upper jaw. The impression is used as a mold of your mouth which will be the basis of the expander we create for you.
Fitting the Expander
Once your custom-made expander is ready, we will put it into place in your palate or upper mouth area. The expander is then left in place for about five to six months.
A small key allows you to gradually adjust the appliance and slowly expand the palate at home. We advise that this be done by someone other than the patient, either a parent or another responsible person. The key turning adjustment is done once a day for several weeks. We’ll make sure you understand exactly how to do this and provide you with a schedule to follow. Make sure to follow our instructions and don’t make unscheduled adjustments.
To use the adjusting key, ask the patient to lie or sit down and tilt their head back. Find the ‘lock’ for the key and insert the key. When the key is turned in the direction of the back of the mouth, you will see the next hole appear. This is how you know that you have tightened the appliance correctly.
What Can Problems Can an Extender Fix?
When the top and bottom teeth do not meet each other correctly we call it a crossbite or malocclusion. If some of the top teeth sit behind the bottom teeth when a patient’s mouth is closed, we are dealing with a crossbite. Crossbites can affect chewing and breathing normally and can cause further displacement of teeth.
When there isn’t enough space in the mouth, adult teeth emerge too crowded together. The teeth are pushed aside, growing in crooked or behind other teeth, pushing them back or to the side.
This is generally a genetic or hereditary condition. Inheriting teeth that are too large for the mouth, or a jaw too small for the teeth will result in overcrowding and crooked teeth. Teeth can also become crowded if a child is a natural mouth-breather. When breathing through the mouth instead of the nose, the tongue rests in a slightly different position. This difference is enough to change the way the tongue encourages the child’s palate to grow to the right size.
When a mouth is very crowded, some teeth become ‘impacted’ and either grow in only partially or not at all. These teeth are difficult to clean and are therefore more likely to suffer from cavities and decay. They can also cause discomfort as they cause pressure trying to emerge where other teeth are already in place. The area around the impacted teeth can become swollen and irritated.
What Can an Expander Do for Me?
Prevent Cavity and Tooth Decay
Because of the difficulty in cleaning impacted teeth and overcrowded teeth, food particles have plenty of opportunities to get stuck. The bacteria that then eats these particles, when not able to be brushed away, can quickly lead to decay and tooth loss. Using an expander to give teeth room to align correctly means that brushing and flossing can be used effectively to remove food and bacteria.
An expanded palate can help to open the nasal passageways and enable easier breathing. Misshapen mouths and jaws, on the other hand, can create problems by narrowing these passageways and making breathing more difficult.
By expanding the palate, a patient may experience a decrease in snoring and nightly grinding of teeth. It also helps to prevent mouth breathing which can cause teeth to dry out and decay faster, as well as exacerbate other health problems.
Decreases Mouth Discomfort
Widening the palate to give teeth adequate room will prevent or decrease the pain that comes from teeth pushing against each other.
Prevents More Costly Problems
When a palate extender is used on a child or young adult, many future dental problems can be prevented or minimized. Circumventing the need for future intensive dental and orthodontal treatments saves you money and discomfort.
Gives You a Beautiful Smile
There’s nothing better than being able to smile openly and with confidence. Allowing teeth the room they need to grow straight and well-aligned can help create that confidence. It also prevents the jaw and face from having an uneven appearance due to heavily crowded teeth.
Different Types of Expanders
The most common type of expander is the rapid palatal expander and is highly effective at opening the jaw up. It is most often used for children and can increase palate size by 5mm every day.
When only a slight expansion is necessary, these smaller chrome appliances may be used. They are designed to be removable.
Implant Expanders are often used for older patients whose jaw and teeth are already set into position. While children’s jaws are more malleable, an adult’s jaw will need extra encouragement to move into a new position. The implants help to make this possible.
Surgically Assisted Palate Expander
Like the implant-supported expander, this appliance is used for adults whose jaw and teeth are already mature. If the jaw shape needs to be significantly altered, an appliance can be implanted into the jawbone to help move it into the correct position.
Alternatives to Palate Expanders
If for any reason a palate expander is not an option for a patient, the problem of an overcrowded mouth is generally solved by removing several teeth. We prefer not to resort to pulling teeth to increase mouth room as each tooth has a specific purpose. It also opens up more space in the mouth than may be necessary and can allow remaining teeth to move into positions that aren’t ideal. Usually, braces are helpful in this case to control where surrounding teeth move once there is more space.
Braces are an excellent way to position teeth and can be used to close gaps made by removing teeth from a crowded mouth. They can also be used to pull teeth apart in the event of overcrowding. Braces are especially useful in palate expansion for older teens and adults as they are more powerful than expanders, working more efficiently to reposition the teeth and jaw.
Using a Retainer
Retainers are removable, comfortable appliances that act similarly to braces. They can help to slowly reposition teeth and then lock them into position. They have many benefits, including making the teeth easy to clean due to their removability, and sometimes only needing to be worn at night. Even when they should be worn all day, they can be removed for special occasions like school or wedding pictures!
If there is a lot of damage to a tooth, a crown is often a good option for filling and protecting that tooth. If crowns are already being considered as a solution to other teeth problems, they may be used to simultaneously reshape teeth and create a slight space between them.
Bring That Smile
If you have crowded teeth or are worried that your child may develop them, you should see an orthodontic specialist for an assessment. Come into Central Texas Orthodontics in Austin, TX for a consultation today! We will give you expert advice on how to achieve the healthiest, most confident smile possible. We’ll make sure you understand the various treatment options and give you the confidence to make a good decision about your family’s dental health.