rpe expander

RPE Expander Overview: What They Are and How They Work

Sometimes kids have trouble with their teeth lining up properly (the fancy, technical term for this is malocclusions). 

One example of this is a crossbite which can happen when there’s not enough room in the top jaw. If it’s not fixed, it can cause more problems later on. 

But don’t worry, there’s a treatment called a rapid palatal expander, or RPE, that can help.

An RPE expander makes more space for adult teeth to grow in and helps fix how the teeth fit together. Orthodontists will use it to correct a patient’s bite. This article will tell you more about what an RPE is and how it works.

RPE Expander Overview

The RPE expander is an orthodontic appliance that treats abnormal palate growth patterns. It can be an excellent option for patients who have narrow, crowded, or protruding upper jaws. The tool works by gradually stretching the central palatal connective structure to broaden the palate.

Because of how it works, it is only recommended for those whose mouths have not yet finished growing. This is because a device like this can still modify their palate. As a general rule, females over the age of 13 and males over the age of 15 should not use the device.

This is because young people’s bodies are still undergoing skeletal growth. This means their bones have not yet fully formed, making the RPE helpful in correcting any abnormalities. But, for it to work, there must already be some form of separation between the bones, which is not the case in fully developed adults.

When an RPE Expander Can Be Useful

An RPE will be useful in the following clinical situations:

  • Skeletal class II (with maxillary constriction)
  • Skeletal class III
  • Crossbites (unilateral/bilateral, anterior/posterior) correction
  • Extensive crowding in the dental region
  • Improvement in nasal breathing

The RPE is widened every other day by either the patient (if they are old enough) or a parent or guardian. Your orthodontist will give you instructions on how to do this, but typically you’ll start with one turn every other night for four weeks. 

It is recommended that the appliance be turned on before going to bed so that the pressure from the turn is gone by the following day. 

Don’t worry if you forget one night. Just give it a turn the following night. But be sure only to do one turn per day unless your orthodontist instructs otherwise. 

How To Use an RPE

To activate the RPE, you will be given a key. To activate the RPE, place the key into the anterior hole of the appliance towards the front teeth. The white circle on the key should point to the patient’s right side. When in the correct position, the key should feel secure. The appliance has an etched arrow pointing down, towards the throat, in the direction the key should be pushed.

Then, push the key all the way to the back of your mouth until it stops. You will hear a little click, and the next hole will be clearly visible in front of the appliance. Finally, carefully remove the key towards the back of the throat, being cautious not to drag the key up. You want to be able to see the new hole in the appliance’s front. See an example of this process here.