What is palatal expansion? Palatal expansion is the widening of the upper jaw to make room for teeth to fit together and align properly, without becoming crooked or crowded. This allows the teeth to move straight and the jaws to function well, giving the appearance of a broader and straighter smile.
Orthodontists recommend palatal expansion for children with a narrow upper jaw while their teeth and jawbone are still growing. This will improve the child’s appearance and avoid difficulties with biting, chewing and speech.
Expansion may prevent the need for removal of crowded teeth later, because space is created while permanent teeth are developing.
How does palatal expansion work? In an immature upper jawbone, the roof of the mouth is formed by two halves of flat bone that make up the palate. They are joined together at the center by a bony suture. Palatal expansion moves the suture apart through the use of an expander device. This widens the upper jaw as new bone fills the gap between the separated palates.
A rapid palatal expander (RPE)/rapid maxillary expander (RME) is placed close to the palate with screws attached to the back of the upper teeth, to be adjusted according to schedule.
How long will the expansion take? The length of expansion depends on the amount of expansion an individual patient will need. Expansion can take a few weeks to a few months. The expander is generally worn for four to six months.
What can I expect during that time? You will initially feel a mild pushing against your teeth. Over the next few days, a tingling sensation and stronger pressure on your palate, nose and cheeks may be felt as the expander is being turned, and you may experience a slight headache. This is usually treated with over-the-counter analgesics.
You may notice space between the front teeth in the first few days, which is a sign that the palate has expanded. The space will close on its own within a month or so. Expansion is usually followed by wearing of braces.
How old is old enough for this treatment? Although age is not the best predictor for palatal expansion, a patient ideally should still be growing, when the sutures in the palatal bone are open. Patients who have completed growth have sutures already fused. The palatal expander can be used after a surgical operation in the upper jaw.