Your smile is almost as unique to you as your fingerprint, and that’s saying something! When it comes to straightening your teeth, your treatment plan should be as personalized as possible so that you get the best results to match your individual needs. Sometimes this process requires different tools that you may not have heard of before, and one of those tools is called a palatal expander.
If Dr. Sturgill, Dr. Williams, or Dr. Harper recently recommended you get a palatal expander, you might be wondering what exactly that appliance is. Fortunately, the Sturgill Orthodontics team is here to tell you everything you need to know about palatal expanders so you can feel comfortable with your treatment plan!
Palatal Expanders: What are they?
Our Sturgill 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 and leave you with a smile you’ll feel proud of.
Palatal expanders work best for younger patients 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.
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!
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.
Tips From the Sturgill Team
Palatal expanders are unique orthodontic tools. Here are some tips and tricks from the pros for taking care of them!
Tip #1: 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.
Tip #2: Avoid sticky or crunchy foods. These foods can dislodge or damage your expander, and broken appliances can result in longer treatment times.
Tip #3: 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.
Tip #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 a short period before turning your key so that you’ll feel as little pain as possible.
Tip #5: 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!
Tip #6: 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.
Your Choice for a Straight Smile
Palatal expanders may sound scary at first, but once you learn about them, they’re just like any other orthodontic appliance. With the Sturgill Orthodontics team at your side, you’ll be able to take on any treatment plan.