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What is a maxillary palatal expander?

A palatal expander is an orthodontic appliance used to widen the upper jaw (maxilla). It is typically used in children and adolescents to correct problems with the teeth and jaw.

A palatal expander consists of a small metal device that is bonded to the upper molars using dental cement. The device has a central screw that can be turned using a special key provided by our office. As the screw is turned, the device expands and gradually widens the upper jaw. This process takes several weeks to several months, depending on your child’s needs.

I commonly use palatal expanders in combination with other orthodontic treatments, such as braces or Invisalign, to correct a range of problems with the teeth and jaws. They are well-tolerated and are effective at correcting problems with the upper jaw.

Benefits of jaw expansion

A palatal expander gently widens the roof of the mouth (palate) over time by separating bones that do not permanently fuse together until puberty. It is most often used to create more room for crowded teeth. Using an expander before extensive orthodontic work on children can reduce the amount of time spent in braces and Invisalign, making the process smoother and less uncomfortable.

Traditionally, a palatal expander corrects:

  • A narrow jaw
  • A crossbite or underbite
  • Crowded teeth
  • Difficulty biting and chewing
  • Speech difficulties

It is important to understand that a palatal expander may be used to improve upper airway breathing problems. The expansion of the upper jaw can help to create more space in the upper airway, potentially improving breathing problems such as sleep apnea, snoring, mouth breathing, and poor sleep quality. Over time, poor sleep quality can affect children’s ability to focus and perform in school and in social situations. A palatal expander is not a treatment for all upper airway breathing problems, and it may not be the most appropriate treatment option in all cases.

If your child is experiencing upper airway breathing problems, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. They will be able to assess your individual needs and recommend the most appropriate treatment options for your specific condition.

Do expanders hurt?

Palatal expanders can cause some discomfort or difficulty speaking and eating during the initial adjustment period. Normally my patients say after just a few days their child is eating and speaking like they did before the expander was placed.

If you think your child may need an expander to help with a small upper jaw, crowding, or upper airway breathing, it is better to do so sooner rather than later. Simply contact our office for a complimentary consultation by Dr. Feinstein by calling (804) 532-4536 or request an appointment online. At your consultation, Dr. Feinstein will do a comprehensive evaluation and she will explain if treatment is indicated and what your treatment options are.

Dr. Rachel Feinstein is a specialty-trained, board-certified orthodontist. Her expertise in treating young children and adults allows her to improve you and your children’s health and smile in an esthetic and efficient manner that integrates into your lifestyle. Dr. Feinstein practices in Chesterfield, Virginia treating orthodontic patients from Chesterfield, Mosely, Midlothian, Richmond, Chester, and Henrico County.

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