What is Upper Jaw Expansion and Should I Do It?

A lesser-known but highly useful children’s orthodontic procedure, upper jaw expansion sounds much more intimidating than it actually is. It is used to widen the palate and increase the dental arch length, making room for teeth to grow in. Here is a brief overview of upper jaw expansion.

upper jaw expansion

Reasons for Upper Jaw Expansion

Upper jaw expansion is typically performed for one of three reasons:

Dental Overcrowding: If the jaw is too narrow, the teeth do not have room to properly emerge. Upper jaw expansion in childhood can reduce the risk of expensive and frustrating corrective procedures as an adult.

Crossbite: The upper teeth should gently close around the lower teeth. If the upper jaw is too narrow, though, the upper teeth may close inside the lower teeth instead, leading to chewing problems and facial asymmetry.

Breathing Issues: A particularly narrow upper jaw could make breathing through the nose difficult. Constantly breathing through the mouth can cause bad breath and dry mouth, and may make the child more susceptible to pollution and airborne bacteria.

Age Guidelines

Upper jaw expansion should be performed between the ages of 5 and 15, preferably at the lower end of that range. Older teens and adults who require more than slight upper jaw expansion generally need surgery.

Treatment Techniques

There are three basic ways to expand the upper jaw, depending on the patient’s unique needs:

Rapid Palatal Expander (RPE): A fixed appliance that is bonded to the upper molars, a rapid palatal expander puts even pressure on both sides of the jaw. A screw at the center of the expander is turned at designated times with a special key, gradually increasing the pressure. This allows extra bone to grow into the space, slowly expanding the jaw.

Removable Palatal Expander: Used most often in teens and adults who need only slight jaw widening, a removable palatal expander resembles an all-chrome partial denture. The expander must be handled with care.

Surgically Assisted Rapid Palatal Expansion (SARPE): When a great deal of expansion is needed, or an adult or older teen needs significant jaw expansion, SARPE is generally recommended. First, a custom fitted appliance is created. Then surgery is performed to separate the upper jaw into segments. The appliance gently spreads the jaw segments apart, creating space for bone to grow.

If your child’s permanent teeth have not yet fully grown in, an orthodontic retainer will likely be used after upper jaw expansion to keep the space open until the teeth are in place.

Upper jaw expansion is not exactly comfortable, but it should not cause outright pain. It can save a great deal of time, discomfort, and money later in life. Make sure your child thoroughly cleans the palate expander when brushing and flossing. If a removable expander is selected, monitor your child to be sure it is being properly used. The effort you and your child put in now will pay off in the long run.

Married dentists Chad and Alexandra Schnabel welcome you to Savannah Dental Solutions. From caring children’s dentistry to high-tech cosmetic procedures and even full-mouth reconstruction, we blend the latest technology with traditional customer-oriented values. To start your journey to better oral health, call us today at (912) 354-1366.