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What is a palate expander?

What is a Palate Expander?

When you think of a palate expander, it wouldn’t be a surprise if some experience a split second of horror. After all, it sounds more like a medieval torture device than a type of orthodontic treatment. Believe it or not, palatal expansion is actually a common way to treat your teeth from overcrowding. 

Most people agree that the typical palate expander age of treatment is before age 16. It’s at this period where your body goes through rapid development, mouth and all. Sometimes, however, our bodies don’t often grow the way they’re supposed to. Whether it’s for genetic reasons or otherwise, there are times when our bodies might need a little assistance. Otherwise, these growth impediments could lead to some nasty situations. 

In the case of palate expanders, it’s a small palate. Crowded teeth, after all, usually happens because the mouth isn’t big enough to hold all the teeth. It’s a problem that’s often common in children. It’s also why the palate expander age occurs within that range—before 16 but after five. Palatal expansion as orthodontic treatment, then, is mostly seen as something to consider for growing kids.  

But how does palatal expansion work, anyway? What makes it an orthodontic treatment? And does it work beyond the palate expander age?

Palate expanders depend on what you’re using them for 

Sure, palate expanders are used the way we described them to be—to guide your kid’s palate as they grow older. Just as there are different types of palate expanders, so are there various reasons to get a palatal expansion.

Sometimes, the orthodontic treatment depends on how severe the case is. If your child’s pediatric dentist sees that your kid’s palate is smaller than usual, chances are they might prescribe them a rapid palatal expander. This type of palate expander looks a bit like a metal clip and is installed on the upper molars. It has a screw in the middle that you can twist to widen the device, encouraging bone growth between the spaces.

Other cases might need something a little more radical. Sometimes, a palate expander is paired with a bit of surgery, where the oral surgeon fractures the upper jaw. Afterward, the palate expander is installed and activated post-op, encouraging the bone to grow as desired. This type of palatal expansion is called surgically assisted rapid palatal expansion.

Of course, not all instances need such drastic measures. If the dentist notes that minimal development is required on your child’s palate, they may prescribe a removable expander instead. For young kids, this orthodontic treatment might be paired with a retainer while waiting for their adult teeth to come through. 

Why is palatal expansion an orthodontic treatment?

Orthodontics, in a nutshell, focuses on how to fix your bad bites. How they do this really depends on the underlying problem. For the most part, orthodontists usually prescribe braces or aligners, as these problems can be treated during late dental development. However, others might look into more long-term treatments for conditions that involve a major developmental problem. Palate sliders are part of this.

Ultimately, whether or not palatal expansion is for you boils down to patient age and your intention for getting one. It’s not really recommended beyond the palate expander age, however, since your mouth’s development begins to set in. If that’s true, you might want to look at other treatments in that regard.