While braces can effectively treat many orthodontic problems, they may not be able to do all of the work on their own. If a patient has an especially narrow upper jaw or palate, your orthodontist may recommend a rapid palatal expander to improve treatment.
You may be unfamiliar with this device and have many questions about what it is and why it is the best orthodontic treatment. In this post, our Bailey Orthodontics team will answer any question you have about a rapid palatal expander and care tips to ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible.
What Is A Rapid Palatal Expander?
A rapid palatal expander is a device commonly used in orthodontic care that widens the upper jaw. It is most commonly used on individuals with a narrow palate or jaw that causes crowding of the teeth, crossbites, breathing issues, and speech impairments. By using the rapid palatal expander, the two halves of the upper jaw and gently pushed away from each other, allowing the teeth to align properly. This device works best on children with still developing jaw bones, as the bone is easier to manipulate.
Why Would You Need It?
As we discussed above, the rapid palatal expander is used to address a myriad of conditions caused by the narrow upper jaw and palate. These conditions include the following:
- Crossbites: If an individual’s upper teeth sit inside the lower teeth when biting down, also known as a crossbite, they may be a good candidate for a rapid palatal expander. With the rapid palatal expander, the upper and lower teeth are aligned.
- Impacted Teeth: If there is not enough room in your jaw for a tooth to emerge, it may remain stuck beneath the gum line. With the rapid palatal expander, the jaw is widened, making room for the tooth to emerge.
- Crowding: When the upper jaw is too narrow, teeth may overcrowd one another. This overcrowding can cause stress on the teeth, leading to tooth loss or gum disease. With the help of a rapid palatal expander, the teeth may migrate and align more properly.
- Breathing Problems: A narrow upper jaw may lead to breathing problems, including sleep apnea and other breathing disorders. By expanding the palate, airflow is improved, and breathing problems are alleviated.
- Facial Asymmetry: Rapid palatal expanders can help address developmental issues, including facial asymmetry, caused by a narrow jaw. The expander can aid in the proper development of the upper jaw bone.
- Speech Impairments: Individuals with narrow jaws may experience speech impairments, including lisps. Expanding the palate can help correct these speech problems.
If you believe you would benefit from a rapid palatal expander, it is essential that you reach out to an orthodontist, who may perform X-rays and other diagnostic tests to determine if you are a good candidate.
How Does It Work?
A rapid palatal expander works by gently widening the upper jaw or palate through pressure on the bone. It is adhered to the teeth or with a band around the back tooth that is connected to the expansion device. Once installed, your orthodontist will explain how to activate the expander. Following these instructions, the jaw is gradually widened, using a screw and key to make small adjustments. During the process, you will maintain regular visits with your orthodontist to ensure proper progress is being made.
What Does The Timeline Look Like?
The timeline for your rapid palatal expander will vary depending on the severity of your orthodontic issue, your age, and your orthodontist’s determined care plan. However, the treatment begins with a consultation to discuss treatment options. Once the rapid palatal expander is deemed appropriate, the orthodontist will take dental impressions to customize your device to best fit your mouth.
Once the device is installed, your orthodontist will teach you how to activate the device and provide a schedule. Generally, patients will turn the screw one or two full turns every day for two weeks. Appointments will be scheduled throughout to ensure this schedule is most beneficial for your jaw and palate. Once the orthodontist determines you’ve reached the desired expansion, the expander will stay in the mouth to maintain the space and allow the bone to heal for up to 6 months.
While the timeline varies greatly from patient to patient, it is generally worn for a few months to a year. Your orthodontist will be your best resource for understanding how long this process will take.
Does It Hurt?
It is not unusual to experience mild discomfort, especially during the initial introduction of the rapid palatal device. Patients may feel tightness upon installation and short bouts of discomfort following adjustments. However, they should subside quickly. They may also notice difficulty eating harder foods. If there is discomfort from the device, it is best to take over-the-counter pain relievers and rinse with salt water. Your orthodontist may also recommend a soft food diet that won’t exert pressure on your palate.
There are several things you can do to make this experience easier for yourself. By properly caring for your teeth and rapid palatal expander, you ensure that the process is most effective. To care for your rapid palatal expander, follow these tips:
- Maintain Proper Oral Hygiene: It is essential that you maintain a proper oral hygiene routine. Ensure your brush, floss, and rinse well around the device to clear away any food particles that may get stuck under it.
- Avoid Certain Foods: Like when wearing braces, your orthodontist may recommend you avoid certain foods while wearing a rapid palatal expander. These foods include sticky, hard, or crunchy foods that may damage the device. It is best to eat softer foods, especially upon initial installation.
- Watch Your Bite: You should be especially mindful of your bite pressure when wearing your rapid palatal expander. Biting down too hard may exert too much pressure on the device, leading to it breaking.
- Avoid Touching: Touching or playing with your rapid palatal expander may lead to dislodgement or damage. Do your best to avoid touching the device with your fingers or tongue to keep it functioning properly.
- Practice Your Speech: If you experienced speech impairments that led to the use of a rapid palatal expander, practice your speech throughout the expansion process. Try reading aloud or speaking with others often to become more comfortable.
It is important that you follow any tips provided by your orthodontist to ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible. If you have questions throughout the process, you should contact your orthodontic team as soon as possible.
Getting A Rapid Palatal Expander With Bailey Orthodontics
Bailey Orthodontics has a variety of resources available to our patients to ensure this process goes smoothly. In addition to our online resources, our team in Farmington and Bountiful is ready to answer any questions you may have in person and over the phone to ensure you get the most out of your investment in a rapid palatal expander.
Bailey Orthodontics has recently reopened its Farmington location and looks forward to seeing you in this new and improved space for all of your orthodontic needs. If you have any questions about financing or would like to schedule a free consultation with our amazing Bountiful and Farmington teams, contact us today.