Palatal Expanders

Braces & Invisalign in Gaithersburg, MD

At the office of Dr. Charles Harrington, we believe everyone deserves a smile they're proud to show off in any situation. That's why we're proud to provide comfortable, convenient orthodontic treatments to both children and adults in the Gaithersburg, North Potomac, and Kentlands/Lakelands areas, taking an individualized approach to treatment that makes the process easier no matter your lifestyle. Sometimes, though, the best way to achieve a new smile is to start early – and palatal expanders are one of the most important tools in early orthodontic treatment.

What Is a Palatal Expander?

A palatal expander is an orthodontic appliance that can help us influence a child's dental development to create a healthier smile in the long-term. It does just the way it sounds: very literally "expanding" a child's palate, which is a part of the jaw.

This might sound frightening, but don't worry. The key here is that during childhood, the upper jaw isn't one solid piece: instead, it starts out as two separate halves that don't fuse together until after puberty. This means that we can use a palatal expander to place gentle outward pressure on the two halves of the jaw, influencing them to gradually spread apart and stimulate the growth of fresh bone between them. The result is that we can painlessly widen the jaw, creating more room in the mouth and allowing us to create a much healthier smile without the need for extensive orthodontic treatment.

Why Would My Child Need a Palatal Expander?

Generally, we'll opt for palatal expansion when children have certain malocclusions caused by problems in jaw development. Some of the most common reasons for palatal expanders include:

  • Crossbite: This condition occurs when the upper jaw is too narrow to fit outside the lower jaw when closed. By expanding the upper jaw, we can correct crossbite and solve the problem.
  • Crowding: Crowding occurs when there isn't enough room in the dental arch to accommodate all the teeth. Widening the jaw allows us to solve the problem without needing to extract teeth.
  • Impacted Teeth: Impaction occurs when a permanent tooth is blocked by another tooth and can't erupt correctly. In some cases, we can widen the jaw and create enough space for the tooth to erupt correctly on its own.

The Expansion Process

The treatment process for palatal expanders is simple, convenient, and comfortable. Essentially, we'll fit your child for their own palatal expander, which is a custom-made device that fits over some of the top teeth in the back of the mouth and rests against the roof of the mouth. The appliance is divided into two halves, which are connected through a special mechanism with a screw. During treatment, you'll simply turn the screw a small amount each day using a special key, which we'll teach you how to do. When we've widened the jaw as much as we want to, we'll leave the device in for a few more months without adjusting it to allow time for more bone to grow between the two halves. After that resting period, we'll simply remove the appliance and the treatment is finished.

What to Expect with a Palatal Expander

As with all orthodontic appliances, most patients go through an adjustment period at the beginning of treatment, and your child may have trouble speaking or eating normally when first starting with the device. This should fade after about a week, though. Children also may experience a minor feeling of pressure for the first few minutes after adjusting the screw, but again, this fades fast. You may also notice a gap form between your child's two front teeth. This is normal and a sign that the expander is working. And by the time we finish with your child's full treatment plan, they'll have a gorgeous smile to call their own!

Contact Your Kentlands/Lakelands Orthodontist

While not all children need early orthodontic treatment, palatal expansion can be a crucial part of achieving a healthy smile. If you have more questions about palatal expanders or think your child might benefit, we'd be thrilled to speak with you: simply reach out to us at our contact page. We can't wait to hear from you, and no matter where you or your child are in the orthodontic treatment process, we're excited to help you achieve your dream smile!