What are Palatal Expanders?

What are Palatal Expanders?


A palatal expander is an orthodontic appliance that is most often used in early orthodontic treatment, or interceptive orthodontics as it is sometimes called. The purpose of interceptive orthodontics is to make adjustments to the shape of the jaw or the position of the teeth to encourage positive growth. It can often reduce the extent of orthodontic treatment that will be needed in the future and shorten treatment duration. 

If your dentist or orthodontist has recommended a palatal expander for your child, here’s what you need to know. 

The Purpose of Palatal Expanders

A palatal expander is designed to widen the upper jaw, or the palate. When the teeth are crowded together due to lack of space, expanding the upper palate can make more room for the existing teeth to relieve crowding. If the baby teeth are already crowded in early childhood, the permanent teeth are likely to follow suit, even as the child’s jaw grows. But a palatal expander can make more room in the jaw now and guide the growth of the jaw to create more room in the future. 

Palatal expanders can also treat bite misalignment. If the upper teeth meet behind the lower teeth (underbite) or if some of the teeth are in front and others are behind (crossbite), expanding the upper jaw can help correct the bite pattern. 

How Palatal Expanders Work

A palatal expander fits in the upper jaw against the roof of the mouth. There are a few different types of palatal expanders and each works in its own way. Some palate expanders are removable like a retainer and others are fixed in place using metal bands that fit around your teeth. Some palate expanders come with a key that is used to expand the appliance daily. Others are adjusted by an orthodontist on a monthly basis. 

Benefits of Palatal Expanders

If you’re trying to determine if a palatal expander is worth it, consider the benefits:

  • Prevent damage to the teeth. Bite misalignment can cause the teeth to wear down prematurely. A palatal expander can improve bite alignment to prevent damage to the teeth. 
  • Relieve jaw pain. A palatal expander can relieve pain in the jaw due to bite misalignment. 
  • Reduce the duration of later treatment. Early orthodontic treatment in the form of a palatal expander when a child is younger can reduce the duration of future treatment, such as braces. 
  • Prevent the need for jaw surgery. A palatal expander can widen the jaw and prevent the need for surgical intervention. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Palatal Expanders

Does it hurt when a palatal expander is adjusted?

Whether you turn the key yourself or your orthodontist adjusts the palatal expander, it will first feel a little tight. Over the next 24 hours some tenderness may develop that can usually be managed with over the counter pain medication. The discomfort should subside in a few days. 

How long will my child need to wear a palatal expander?

The average treatment time for a palatal expander is between 6 months and a year. It will depend on the individual needs of the child and the type of palatal expander that is used. 

Schedule an Evaluation With Demko Orthodontics 

If your child has not had an orthodontic evaluation by the age of 7, it is a good idea to schedule one. Demko Orthodontics provides orthodontic evaluations for all children to determine if treatment is necessary. In many cases treatment will be postponed until the child is older, but in other cases it may be best to start treatment now. We will provide a recommendation for the best course of treatment for your child. 

Contact us today to learn more and schedule an appointment.