Do you have a narrow smile, one that juts in front, or teeth that are overlapped, crooked, or stacked behind each other? Braces can help realign your teeth, but only if there’s enough room in the jaw. If you have a narrow palate, it might need expanding before more orthodontic work can be done to straighten your smile.
At ChapmanSmiles Orthodontics in Happy Valley, Clackamas, Oregon, orthodontist Dr. Gary Chapman does a full examination to see if you need expanders before we move on to making your teeth line up in perfect arches.
Getting a palate expander
Palate expanders are attached to your molars with a strong dental cement, just like braces are, but instead of applying pressure to your teeth, they work directly on the upper palate.
Your palate is a pair of thin bones at the roof of your mouth, which are joined by a seam that forms in childhood. Expanders apply gentle pressure over time, weakening the palate as tiny microfractures occur, then widening it as new bone forms to fill those tiny stress cracks.
This is an almost painless process. Most people have some mild discomfort during the first few days after the expander is placed, and again each time it’s adjusted. Over-the-counter pain relief is usually sufficient to deal with these sensations of pressure and strain.
How the palate expander affects your jaw
The effect of the palate expander is to widen the upper jaw, allowing your jaw hinge to move freely and making space for all of your teeth to line up evenly for a more aesthetically pleasing appearance and better bite. Upper palate expansion can improve your speech patterns, reduce wear-and-tear on your teeth, and even help with issues like temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain and sleep apnea.
In children, we start with the palate expander when they’re around seven or eight years old, while the upper palate is still malleable and not completely fused. Kids usually wear an expander for a few months. As an adult with a fully fused upper palate, you can expect to wear your expander for up to a year or more.
After your palate expander has done its work
Once your palate is sufficiently expanded to allow for a proper arch of teeth, we often leave it in place for a few additional months to ensure as much strong bone is formed as possible and avoid losing any progress when we remove the expander.
After we take your expander out, we reassess the structure of your mouth and talk with you about what you want your smile to look like. In most cases, we can put you straight into either traditional braces or clear aligners to gently coax your teeth into the correct positions. The final result is a smile you can be proud of.
Interested in resolving your narrow smile? Dr. Chapman can explain your treatment options. To schedule a consultation, call 503-659-5000, or request an appointment online.