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A palatal expander is a dental device that widens the upper jaw to create more space for teeth. It’s custom-made to fit over several top teeth on the roof of the mouth.
Dentists or orthodontists may use a palatal expander, also known as an orthodontic expander, before placing traditional dental braces.1
A palatal expander widens the roof of the mouth by gradually pushing apart the palatal bones. They’re helpful when someone has a:
Expansion creates more room for teeth. It can also correct other potential issues, such as overlapping teeth.2
Dentists may recommend an expander before braces to ensure the orthodontic treatment is as effective as possible.
Not everyone needs a palatal expander before braces. Dentists recommend palatal expanders for people with:
Malocclusion refers to a scenario in which the top and bottom teeth do not meet correctly. Palatal expanders can correct crossbites, a type of malocclusion where the upper teeth sit inside the lower teeth.
A maxilla (upper jaw) that's too narrow may not give the teeth enough room to erupt in the correct position. As a result, teeth may overlap or become crowded and crooked.
They may also block other teeth from emerging (impacted teeth). Palatal expanders can create more space for a child’s permanent teeth.
A palatal expander opens nasal passages, thereby promoting better airflow and improving speech patterns.
If a narrow maxilla is left untreated, a person can experience other complications, such as:
“Palatal expanders are the gold standard when it comes to correcting crossbites in children. A proper occlusion will prevent potential jaw joint issues, sleep disordered breathing issues, and speech problems.Dr. Nandita Lilly, one of NewMouth’s in-house dentists
A cleft palate is a common defect that involves a split or opening in the upper lip or palate. A palatal expander can be helpful during the repair process.
Once cuts have been made in the bone surrounding the palate, an expander may be placed to create space for new bone tissue to grow.
Palate expanders resemble retainers, though they’re typically made from chrome metal. They have two halves that attach to the upper teeth on each side.
An expansion screen connects the two halves in the middle of the palate. You'll turn this screw periodically with a palate expander key on a schedule from your orthodontist. Turning it maintains gentle pressure on either side of the jaw, slowly widening the palate.
Once you reach the desired jaw width, you'll wear the expander for several months. This additional time allows new bone to form in the gap, stabilizing palatal expansion.
A palatal expander usually remains in the mouth for at least 6 months and up to a year. If the expander comes out too early, the bones may gradually relapse to their original position.
An orthodontist may remove the original expander after 6 months and replace it with a smaller appliance.5
The best age for a palatal expander to be effective is between 5 and 16. Some orthodontists recommend children who need palatal expanders get them at 7 or 8.
Since jawbones don’t fully form until after puberty, the palatal bones of children under 16 have not yet fused together. Therefore, children may see results from palatal expanders more quickly than adults.4,5
Palatal expanders have high success rates in children and adults. Studies have shown a success rate of between 84 and 88%.8,9
One study noted complications are much less likely if palatal expansion occurs slowly and carefully.9
There are several types of palate expanders, including:
Your orthodontist may recommend a removable palate expander If your upper jaw requires minimal expansion. Always wear the expander, even though it’s removable, except while eating, playing sports, or brushing your teeth.
With a removable palatal expander, you’ll need to turn the screw two or three times a week, depending on your doctor’s recommendations.
The Hyrax is the most common fixed palate expander. It consists of two metal wings with bands that fit snugly around individual back molars. The orthodontist glues the bands onto those molars, securing the expander.
You'll need to turn the central screw on a regular schedule. Your orthodontist will provide the key and instructions on how to use it.
Because the Hyrax consists of only bands and wires with no acrylic covering, it's easy to keep clean. Another advantage is that it doesn't irritate the palatal mucosa. This is because the teeth bear the pressure.6
The Haas design resembles the Hyrax but incorporates acrylic. It's bonded to the back molars and exerts positive pressure on the palate and teeth.
Like the Hyrax, it has a central screw that requires periodic turning.
A quad-helix expander offers the benefit of not needing adjustments once it’s in place. It’s designed to expand on its own.
Instead of a turnscrew, this expander has four active helix springs. The orthodontist glues it onto the back molars in a compressed position. It then gradually expands without the need for manual adjustments.
By itself, treatment with a palate expander can cost between $1,000 to $2,500. The cost of a palate expander depends on several factors, including:
You can use palate expanders independently or as part of a comprehensive orthodontic treatment plan with braces. Comprehensive orthodontic treatments including an expansion appliance can cost $3,000 or more.
The cost may vary based on treatment length, types of braces, and any other necessary orthodontic work.7
Yes, most insurance plans cover part of the cost of palatal expanders. Palate expanders are typically considered medically necessary.
However, always check with your insurance provider for specifics on your coverage.
The most common side effect of using a palate expander is mild discomfort. You may feel pressure or soreness in your teeth and upper jaw for the first few days after adjustments.
Other typical side effects include:
These side effects are temporary and should improve as your body adjusts to the appliance. Other less common side effects may include:
Most side effects are minimal. Contact your orthodontist immediately if you experience severe pain or other problems.
No, your palate expander shouldn’t hurt. It may cause discomfort or soreness for the first few days, but symptoms should subside as your mouth adjusts.
Contact your doctor right away if you feel pain from your palate expanders.
Orthodontic appliances such as palatal expanders can be uncomfortable. However, there are things you can do to minimize discomfort and other side effects:
Like any orthodontic appliance, you must take care of your palate expander. You’ll need to:
Turning your palate expander widens the device to apply further pressure on the palate bones. Your orthodontist will instruct you on how often and how much to do so.
Typically, you’ll need another person to turn the expansion screws. It’s easiest to lie on your back so the person helping can shine a light into your mouth.
There are holes in the middle section of the palate expander. Insert the expansion key into each hole and turn it in the direction the arrows point. Your doctor will tell you how many times to turn the key.
Once you’re finished with all the screws, remove the key.
If an orthodontist doesn't think a palate expander is the best choice for you, there are alternative options. Orthodontic treatments to address a narrow mouth or crowded teeth may include:
A palatal expander is an orthodontic appliance used to widen the upper jaw. It can correct crowded teeth and malocclusion. Your orthodontist may also recommend it before traditional braces.
You usually wear palatal expanders for around 6 to 12 months. They’re most effective when used pre-puberty before the palatal bones fuse.
Treatment costs can range from $1,000 to several thousands of dollars, depending on the dentist, location, and insurance coverage. Most insurance plans cover part of the cost, as expanders are usually considered medically necessary.
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