What is an Orthodontic Expander & When is it Necessary?

When your child’s orthodontist recommends an orthodontic expander, you may have questions about what it is, what it does, and when it is needed. In this article, we will explore the answers to these questions and provide valuable insights into orthodontic expanders.


Orthodontic expanders are appliances used to gradually widen a child’s jaw and palate. This allows for the normal growth of adult teeth or the correction of jaw misalignment. Understanding the purpose and benefits of orthodontic expanders is essential for parents considering this treatment option for their children.

What is an Orthodontic Expander?

An orthodontic expander is a custom-made appliance that fits a child’s natural palate. It consists of two halves connected by a screw in the middle. These expanders are typically used to widen the upper jaw when necessary. Your orthodontist will recommend either a removable or fixed expander, depending on your child’s specific needs.

Orthodontic Expander

How Does a Palatal Expander Work?

A palatal expander applies gentle pressure to widen the space in a child’s mouth over a period of 3-12 months. It is attached to the upper jaw and held in place with wires around the molars. Turning the small screw in the center of the expander gradually pushes it outward, expanding the two halves of the upper jaw independently. Once the desired expansion is achieved, the expander remains in place for a few more months to allow new bone to develop and stabilize the expansion.

When is an Orthodontic Expander Needed?

Your orthodontist may recommend an orthodontic expander if your child has severe crowding, a crossbite, or impacted teeth. Crowding can be addressed by widening the jaw, reducing the need for future tooth extractions or braces. Similarly, a crossbite occurs when the upper teeth misalign due to a narrow upper jaw. An expander can correct this misalignment. Additionally, widening the upper jaw can create space for impacted teeth to erupt naturally.

Orthodontic Expander Pros and Cons

As with any orthodontic treatment, there are pros and cons to consider. Early orthodontic treatment with an expander has several advantages, including shorter treatment time, less need for tooth removal, improved oral hygiene, and a more aesthetically pleasing smile. However, it may take time for a child to adjust to eating and speaking with an expander, and extra cleaning is required. Temporary tenderness during adjustment is also possible, but it quickly subsides.

Ways to Help Your Child Get Used to Their Expander

Transitioning to wearing an orthodontic expander can be overwhelming for a child. Here are a few ways you can help them adjust more comfortably:

  • Offer expander-friendly foods that require less chewing initially.
  • Provide over-the-counter pain relief and cold treats to soothe discomfort.
  • Assist your child with their oral hygiene, emphasizing the importance of cleaning their teeth and expander.
  • Stay in communication with your orthodontist, addressing any concerns or questions that arise during the treatment process.

Your Child’s Smile is Our Priority

At The Brace Place, we prioritize helping children achieve healthy, confident smiles. Our experienced orthodontist, Dr. Patel, has 20 years of experience in early orthodontic treatment. If an orthodontic expander is recommended for your child, we offer free initial consultations at our Tulsa and Claremore offices. Contact us today to book an appointment and start your child’s orthodontic journey.

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