Palate Expanders: The When, Why, Where, and How?
Ever wonder what a palate expander was? Or why they are used? Or simply wonder why your friend’s daughter needs one and yours doesn’t?
Well, did you know that orthodontics is more than just straight teeth? As orthodontists, we are specialists in orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics. Monitoring and guiding facial and jaw growth is an important part of our practice and an effective way to treat certain malocclusions.
As you probably know, orthodontics (“ortho” – straight, “dontics” – teeth) simply means straight teeth. However, dentofacial (“dento” – teeth, “facial” – face) orthopedics (“ortho” – straight, “ped” – child) is most likely something new. Broken down, we see it is this extra specialization that allows us, the orthodontist, to recognize and re-align discrepancies in growth and development of the jaws and the resulting malocclusion (“mal” – bad, “occlusion” – bite).
This is where the palatal expander comes in: taking advantage of a unique time during which the dynamic process of growth and development can be positively influenced.
The Where and How:
The upper jaw and palate (the roof of your mouth) are actually the combination of two bones that come together and fuse in the middle called a suture. A suture is similar, but not synonymous to a growth plate. Fortunately, this fusion is not complete until a little after puberty (before age 12) and provides the perfect window of opportunity to exert influence.
The palate expander does just what the appliance indicates – increases the width of the palate. The gentle force of the expander separates the two bones of the palate where they join. The tension on the suture causes the body to grow new bone, and it is this increased palatal width that ultimately creates more room for the teeth.
The When and Why:
Orthopedic expansion of the maxilla is often indicated when the upper jaw is too narrow. The typical presentation includes a crossbite malocclusion, narrow smile, and crowding causing insufficient room for the adult teeth to erupt into proper alignment. When a tooth hasn’t come in and is potentially blocked from coming in (impacted), widening the upper jaw can allow it to erupt into its proper position on its own, preventing the need for a surgical procedure in the future.
Expanding the upper jaw has other benefits: It can broaden the smile, it can eliminate the need for adult teeth to be removed to create space for alignment, and it can also improve breathing if your child suffers from signs of obstructive sleep apnea.
Just like you wouldn’t skip a wellness check at the pediatrician, you shouldn’t skip an early trip to the orthodontist. A visit to your orthodontist will help keep your child’s oral health and development in check. And just like most things in life, dental health is more manageable if you get ahead of it today.