Maxillary expansion is the orthodontic process of widening the upper jaw (maxilla) to align with the lower jaw. There are several benefits of this procedure that go even beyond orthodontics, which we discuss in this post. But, first, let’s look at why and how orthodontists use maxillary expansion.
By widening a patient’s upper jaw, orthodontists can create space to correct crowding. The procedure also often eliminates the need for tooth extraction.
Why is expansion needed?
A narrow upper jaw won’t come right over time or as a child grows into an adult. Luckily, jaw problems in children are visible early. In fact, orthodontists usually carry out expansion on pre-adolescents because, at that age, their bones are not yet fused together, making it easier to widen the palate.
Crowded teeth because of a narrow jaw can cause the following problems:
- Teeth are difficult to clean. As a result, food can become trapped and cause bad breath and gum disease.
- Teeth can wear abnormally. Crowded teeth often don’t align correctly with their counterparts and touch tooth areas they shouldn’t.
- It can be difficult to chew. The inability of teeth to make contact with each other can make chewing a problem.
How does maxillary expansion work?
The orthodontist will cement a custom-made appliance (expander) to the patient’s posterior upper teeth (bicuspids and molars). The expander has a small screw or spring that when turned, generates a force that gently separates the two palatal bones. The orthodontist will instruct the child or parent to turn the screw once a week, sometimes more often.
As mentioned in our introduction, there are other non-orthodontic problems maxillary expansion can address. Here they are.
Yes, you read right. It is thought that expanding a child’s upper jaw can reduce or stop bedwetting. Now, you may be sceptical that maxillary expansion could cure for such a condition, but it makes sense. You see, many experts believe there is a link between bedwetting and breathing sleep disorders. The palate forms the base of the nasal airway, so widening it can improve airflow.
Again, because maxillary expansion improves patients’ airways, it is thought to improve obstructive sleep apnoea in children — where the child stops breathing several times during the night. In adults, the lack of decent sleep can manifest in them falling asleep at inappropriate times. With children though, poor sleep can lead to hyperactivity, behaviour sometimes misdiagnosed as ADHD.
Finally, several studies show that the hearing of hearing impaired children can improve from between two to 19 decibels after maxillary expansion.
There is still plenty of debate over the merits of maxillary expansion beyond orthodontics. If you feel, however, that the procedure may help your child, we recommend you consult a doctor to investigate allergies or adenoid problems first.