Everything You Need to Know About Palatal Expanders

Orthodontic treatment comes in many forms. Depending on your unique needs and orthodontic condition, Dr. Foley will develop a personalized treatment plan just for your smile, and if you have a narrow palate, we might recommend an orthodontic appliance called a palatal expander. You might be wondering what exactly this tool is, and if you are, we’re here to help! 

Here’s everything you need to know about palatal expanders and how they might be the key to your new smile!

All About Palatal Expanders

Narrow Palates

Our Foley Orthodontics team sees patients with all sorts of orthodontic conditions, and one of the most common is a narrow palate. When you come in with crowded teeth (teeth competing for space in the mouth) or a crossbite (a form of misalignment called a malocclusion), it might be because the top of your mouth is too small for all of your adult teeth to grow properly. 

A narrow palate means you lack space in your mouth, and a lack of space in your mouth usually results in crooked, crowded, or overlapping teeth. These conditions can lead to even more problems in your everyday life that aren’t confined to your smile. Crowding and crossbites can cause headaches, tooth pain, decay, or even sleep apnea, but don’t worry! A palatal expander can address these problems at the root and leave you with a smile you’ll feel proud of. 

How do palatal expanders work?

Palatal or orthodontic expanders are unique metal tools that fit on the roof of your mouth. These adjustable appliances exert a constant pressure that gently broadens the upper jaw for three to six months, giving your teeth more space to shift in line. Palatal expanders are patient-friendly and so easy to adjust that you can do it at home! Your expander should be tightened once every few days, depending on Dr. Foley’s advice. 

When your orthodontist attaches the palatal expander to your teeth, they’ll give you a special adjustment tool and a tightening schedule. This tool looks and works like a key. To adjust your appliance as directed, simply insert the key into the hole in the middle of your device and turn. 

You may feel slight discomfort when you tighten your expander, but these adjustments are much milder than the kind you get at your regular braces appointment at our office — you’ll hardly feel a difference.

Who Benefits from Palatal Expanders?

Palatal expanders work best for younger patients in Cary whose mouths are still growing. The palate of your mouth is made of two separate bones that meet in the middle. When you reach puberty, these bones fuse together. Until then, they are pliable — and that’s where expanders come in. 

The flexibility of these bones allows a palatal expander to work with your child’s natural growth. As the tool gently pushes the bones away from one another, new bone grows to fill in the space and voila! You have a wider palate and more space in your mouth for your teeth to line up properly. 

Everything You Need to Know About Palatal Expanders

The Types of Palatal Expanders

Just like braces, there are several types of palatal expanders on the market designed for patients with different conditions and needs. 

Fixed Expanders: If you have a more complex condition, you may require a fixed expander. Our doctors attach metal bands to two of your top back teeth. These expanders include a metal screw that you can adjust on the schedule provided for you. 

Removable Expanders: Typically used for patients with mild orthodontic conditions, this option allows you to remove your expander when eating, playing sports, or brushing your teeth. For best results, you should wear this tool as often as possible, for nearly 24 hours daily. 

Tips & Tricks for Living with a Palatal Expander

Palatal expanders are unique orthodontic tools. Here are some tips and tricks from Dr. Foley and the team for taking care of your new appliance! 

#1: Try using a water flosser like a Waterpik to remove food particles from the roof of your mouth more easily. Palatal expanders can be difficult to clean, but the water pressure does an excellent job of removing leftover food from those hard-to-reach places. 

#2: Avoid sticky or crunchy foods. These foods can dislodge or damage your expander, and broken appliances can result in longer treatment times. 

#3: Be careful when chewing your food. Because the expander is located at the roof of your mouth, eating may come with a learning curve. However, by taking smaller bites of soft foods, you’ll adjust a lot more quickly to the appliance. 

#4: Use medication to help alleviate the pain. If you’re feeling excessive discomfort, try taking an over-the-counter painkiller. You can take a dose before turning your key so that you’ll feel as little pain as possible. 

#5: If you feel discomfort when adjusting your expander, try changing your adjustment routine! Our doctors suggest adjusting your appliance at night, so you can sleep through the discomfort and wake up with a smile on your face. 

#6: Trust the process! When we first apply your palatal expander, it might take some getting used to. The new appliance could feel awkward in your mouth, and you might develop a slight lisp when speaking for about a week. Don’t let this hold you back! The feeling is temporary — your straight smile goals are forever!

Everything You Need to Know About Palatal Expanders

Foley Orthodontics: Let Your Smile Shine!

At Foley Orthodontics, we’re here to make you smile. With braces, Invisalign, and InBrace treatments for patients of all ages in Cary, we’ve got a personalized smile plan to help your smile shine. Be sure to follow us on Instagram and schedule your free consultation today!