Life With an Expander

Braces aren’t the only tool at RiverView Orthodontics to straighten smiles. Dr. Mike Upton also offers palatal expanders—an oral device that creates space in your child’s mouth for permanent teeth. Let’s explore what you need to know about life with a palatal expander and how this device can improve your child’s smile!

What is a Palatal Expander?

A palatal expander is a device that takes advantage of changes in your child’s teeth and jaw as they develop. It helps create more space in the mouth by gradually widening the upper jaw.

You might think this sounds scary, but here’s the thing: the upper jaw develops as two separate halves that don’t entirely fuse until after puberty. Each half can be gently separated and stabilized with a palatal expander until that time. These expanders work with the growing teeth and jaw, making this treatment time-sensitive.

Palatal expanders consist of two pieces connected in the middle by a screw. We customize them to fit over a few of your child’s top teeth in the back of their mouth. Turning the screw in tiny increments each day with a special key creates tension at the junction of the two palatal bones, gradually moving them apart.

Once we achieve the desired expansion, we usually keep the appliance in place for a few more months. This appliance allows new bone to form in the gap and stabilize the development. Typically, patients wear palatal expanders for about nine to 12 months.


Did you know braces aren't the only tool at RiverView Orthodontics to straighten smiles? Let's learn about life with a palatal expander!

Who Can Benefit From Palatal Expanders?

Children usually start losing their baby teeth and growing permanent teeth between the ages of six and 13. Some children have too small jaws for their adult teeth, leading to crowding and misalignment. Palatal expanders can be beneficial in many of these cases by:

Reducing or eliminating overcrowding: Expanders create space for your child’s upper teeth to come in correctly.

Reducing the risk of impacted teeth: When other teeth block an unerupted tooth, we can create room for it to emerge by widening the upper jaw.

Correcting a crossbite: The upper teeth should close around the outside of the lower teeth, but a narrow palate can cause the upper teeth to bite inside the lower teeth. An expander can fix this before it causes asymmetrical jaw growth and restores facial symmetry.
Expanding the upper jaw with a palatal expander can also improve your child’s smile aesthetically and potentially shorten their treatment time with braces or clear aligners at our Tuscaloosa and Demopolis offices.

Types of Palatal Expanders

The type of palatal expander we use for your child will depend on their age and the unique shape of their palate. There are fixed and removable options, and we custom-make every expander to match your child’s natural palate shape and size. Here are three common types of dental palate expanders:

Rapid Palatal Expander (RPE): This is one of the standard types of expanders. It has a center screw with four branches attached to the upper back teeth. We’ll give you a small key to activate the center screw each day, turning it in small measures to create tension on the two palatal bones. This key widens the palate to the correct size and shape.

Removable Palatal Expander: This is another standard option for treating children or cases that require minimal expansion. The device looks like the clear retainer you get after orthodontic treatment but contains a center screw. The center screw works similarly to the RPE and requires gentle expansion daily for 3-6 months.

Mini-Implant-Assisted Rapid Palatal Expander (MARPE): If your child starts treatment with us early enough, they may not need a MARPE. We typically use these with older teens and young adults who require more powerful pressure to reshape their palates.

A MARPE includes two to four mini-implants on parallel palatal bone points. It also has a center screw that works similarly to other palatal expanders, but instead of applying pressure to the teeth, it applies pressure directly to the palatal bones.


Did you know braces aren't the only tool at RiverView Orthodontics to straighten smiles? Let's learn about life with a palatal expander!

Find Your Child’s Healthiest Smile at RiverView Orthodontics

Children’s mouths change rapidly, with lots of shifting and moving as baby teeth fall out and permanent teeth erupt. If a misalignment or other issue is present, it’s often easier to treat at a younger age when the jaw and palate are still developing.

If you want to improve your child’s oral health, our team would love to meet you both and see how their smile is developing! Contact us today to schedule a FREE consultation with Dr. Upton at our Tuscaloosa or Demopolis office. We can’t wait to see you soon!