Rewinding the Years: Dental Care Tips for Older Adults

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Rewinding the Years: Dental Care Tips for Older Adults

Once my children were grown and on their own, I decided it was time to care of me. One of the first things I did was make an appointment with the dentist. I quickly discovered that years of not keeping up with my own dental care had taken a heavy toll on my teeth. Whereas I thought my teeth were just fine, the dentist pointed out several problems that were going to require a lot of work. When talking to friends, I found out that many of them were in the same boat. This blog is for people like me who just did not have time to keep up with their own dental care.

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Can Adults Get Palatal Expanders?

If you have crowded teeth, a cross-bite, or a sleep disorder, those problems may stem from a palate that's too narrow. Narrow palates can be treated with orthodontic appliances called palatal expanders. Expanders are often used for children before they proceed with further orthodontic treatment, so you may be wondering if you can get one as an adult. Read on to learn more about expanders.

Why Do Children Typically Use Expanders Rather Than Adults?

In children, expanders can correct cross-bites, widen the upper jaw, and improve disordered sleep patterns. When a person is still young, the bones that make up the palate are still growing, and a suture that connects both sides of the palate doesn't close until the early teen years. This means that the bones are much more flexible and easier to correct while a child is still growing. The reason expanders aren't seen as much in adults is that the treatment time may take longer since the palate and jawbones are done growing and aren't as easy to move.

How Can a Rapid Palate Expander Help Adults?

Although treatment time may take longer for adults than children, this doesn't mean that you should rule out the benefits of an expander. There are different types of orthodontic expanders, and adults can often find great success with rapid palatal expanders (RPEs).

RPE appliances fit over your back teeth and there's a screw in the middle of the appliance that places pressure on the palate to widen it. To activate the expansion, your orthodontist will give you a special key so you can turn a screw in the appliance. The tension of the screw will then slowly push out and expand your palatal bones. As the name implies, this appliance works rapidly; you may only need months of treatment rather than years. 

In the past, clinicians used to believe that surgical palate expansion was the only way for adults to get their desired results. However, one study found that nonsurgical maxillary expansion with a Haas appliance was very successful and safe. The Haas appliance is a type of RPE that has the screw embedded in an acrylic base—similar to a retainer. Instead of just pushing the against teeth, the Haas appliance redistributes forces along the palate and reduces outward tipping of posterior teeth.

If you want to avoid surgery, you should ask your orthodontist about RPEs that work for adults. If your doctor decides that an RPE isn't right for you, that doesn't mean you have to jump to surgery right away. Your orthodontist might recommend a Herbst appliance that can treat overbites; they can recommend a distal jet appliance or even braces.

Reach out to an orthodontist in your area to learn more about orthodontic services for your jaw.