Upper Jaw Expansion

Early intervention with orthodontics is an excellent approach for a growing child. It helps to align the dental arches when they are not in their correct position.

Usually, orthodontic treatments use braces to align the teeth in position and create a symmetric smile.

However, in some cases, where there is not enough room for the teeth to move, an additional procedure is required to serve the purpose. One of them is upper jaw expansion.

Upper jaw expansion is a form of orthodontic intervention which is used in cases where the maxillary arch is relatively small and narrow.

By widening the circumference of the palate in the mouth, the perimeter of the dental arch can be increased to create more space for the teeth to grow freely.

Such a unique procedure is only applicable to growing children under the age of sixteen.

Let’s continue to read further to understand the need for upper jaw expansion and the benefits of undergoing this procedure.

What is a palatal expansion?

Palatal expansion is an orthodontic approach which is used to widen the upper jaw so that the teeth on both the arches can fit together.

This procedure uses a device called the palatal expander which expands the roof of the mouth to accommodate all the teeth in the upper jaw with proper alignment. (1)

Palatal expansion is commonly done in growing children, but this procedure can be used in adults as well. However, the expansion in adults can be slightly uncomfortable and painful. The effect of palatal expansion can be seen within a few weeks to months.

What is the procedure for palatal expansion?

The roof of the mouth is made up of two palatal shelves that fuse in the midline. These two shelves continue to grow until adulthood. Palatal expansion takes advantage of this natural process of growth and gradually moves the palatal shelves apart to widen the upper jaw.

Palatal expansion is accomplished with a specialized device called the palatal expander. This device attaches to the molars on both sides of the upper jaw. The central part consists of an expansion screw that moves apart from the two plates of the device together.

Palatal expansion is commonly used for young children. Parents are often given the responsibility to operate the screw timely to expand the arches. Usually, the key in the screw is turned within fixed periods to expand the two portions away from each other.

Each turn widens the palate to some extent, and the process continues until an ideal expansion is obtained. The method of palatal expansion may look daunting but is a straightforward approach.

Who requires palatal expansion?

Upper jaw expansion is successful when it is done in young children who are still growing. Usually, the age of the children may range from five years to sixteen years.

Palatal expansion can be done alone or in combination with braces treatment. The treatment plan depends on the dental alignment of the child and the need for palatal expansion.

Palatal expansion can be used in adults too, but the treatment can take a long time to finish. Moreover, an adult patient will experience discomfort and pain during the procedure.

Jaw surgery is the first line of treatment recommended for adult patients in case of palatal expansion. (2)

What are the types of devices used for palatal expansion?

Two types of devices are typically used for palatal expansion.

Rapid expanders

The rapid palatal expander is a fixed orthodontic appliance which attaches to the molars on both sides of the jaw with the help of cemented bands of bonding.

The devices consist of two separate plates connected by an expander screw in the middle. The screw comes with a key that needs to be turned at fixed intervals of time. This process is done to stretch the plates away from one other and expand the palate. (3)

In a growing child, the bone growth helps to cover the space created in the midline of the palate.

Removable expanders

Removable expanders are similar to a partial denture, but these devices are made up of chrome. Removable expanders are used in cases that require minimal expansion of the palate.

These orthodontic expanders are commonly used for adults as compared to children as they comply with the course of treatment.

When used in children, depending on the age, an orthodontic retainer is fitted to maintain the space until all the permanent erupt in the arch.

When is palatal expansion required?

Palatal expansion is typically used to correct three significant malocclusions –

  • Crossbite – patients with narrow palate often have their lower teeth overlapping the upper teeth. This type of bite results in asymmetrical growth of the mandibular jaw which may affect the facial appearance. The palatal expansion allows the teeth in both jaws to fit correctly and restores the facial asymmetry. (4)
  • Palatal expansion eliminates overcrowding of teeth in the upper jaw. This process makes space for the teeth to grow and align naturally.
  • Narrow and high palate often interrupts normal breathing through the nose. In the long run, patients develop the habit of mouth breathing which can be harmful to the oral health of the patient. The palatal expansion allows the roof of the mouth to adjust in its correct position, opens up the nasal passages and solves the problem of breathing in the patient.

What is the cost of palatal expansion?

Depending on the degree of dental correction required by the patient including extraction of specific teeth during treatment, upper jaw expansion procedures can cost up to $3000.

Take away message

Orthodontic treatments in children is an interceptive method to allow proper dental alignment while the jaws are still growing.

Upper jaw expansion is a method to prepare the maxillary arch for the eruption of permanent teeth which otherwise may not have erupted in the correct position.

Early intervention with palatal expansion eliminated the need for orthodontic braces treatment for the child later in life.

Palatal expanders are often not visible in the mouth and are the perfect device to provide a good healthy smile to your child.

Consult your orthodontist to know more about upper jaw expansion and give your child a smile they deserve.