Can Palatal Expanders Cure Sleep Apnea? The AAO Says No.

Palatal expanders are often promoted in orthodontics as a treatment for a variety of issues. These appliances are used to widen an upper jaw that is too narrow, and this is important if there is a discrepancy between the width of the upper and lower jaws, also known as a crossbite. However, claims that expanders can create room for crowded teeth, prevent the need for removing teeth before or during treatment, and improve breathing with regards to problems like sleep apnea are not supported by rigorous scientific research. In fact, when you look at the evidence-based orthodontic research that is currently available, less than 10% of children have the kind of bite a palatal expander can correct.

The American Association of Orthodontists recently revealed their new recommendations for treating sleep apnea with palatal expanders, which has been a fairly common treatment among orthodontists. The AAO’s new advice on this method of treatment is simple: it’s unnecessary and shouldn’t be done. An exhaustive review of currently accepted scientific literature has been compiled by the AAO that shows orthodontists cannot predict, prevent, diagnose, or cure sleep apnea, and that there are no orthodontic procedures that prevent or cure it. They believe the orthodontic community should not support the routine use of palatal expanders in association with a patient’s sleep apnea, and that claims of “improving breathing” or “opening the airway” should not be used to advocate early palatal expansion, non-extraction treatment, non-retraction treatment, and more.

Here at Rhoads Orthodontic Specialist, we’ve been ahead of the palatal expander game for a while! Although many parents come to us concerned about the use of palatal expanders, Dr. Rhoads takes a more moderate approach to this treatment. She will absolutely recommend palatal expanders, but only when they are truly needed, as in the case of a patient with upper jaws that are too narrow or a crossbite with the lower jaw. As an experienced board certified orthodontist, Dr. Rhoads specializes in treating all types of bite problems, and has found that most of them can be corrected without the use of an expander.

Along with the rest of our team, Dr. Rhoads is proud to provide personalized, efficient, and conservative care for every patient. To get the word out about the overuse of palatal expanders, and her own personal guidelines for using them, Dr. Rhoads has written an article about the topic, which can be found here on our website. For your convenience, we’re also embedding it below. We’d love for you to look it over, and let us know what you think! If you have any further questions about orthodontic treatment using palatal expanders, please get in touch. We’re here to help you understand every step in the treatment process!