What Is a Palatal Jaw Expander?

Updated on May 30, 2022

Do not panic if you hear that you or your child needs to have your jaw expanded after a consultation with your orthodontist. If you have dental health issues that require the insertion of an orthodontic appliance, the result is usually excellent and permanent. One of the most common orthodontic appliances is a palatal expander, especially if you need jaw expansion.

It is an appliance that expands the upper jaw. Sometimes, the jaw is too narrow or small to accommodate all the teeth, so an individual needs a jaw expansion. It is a slow process that necessitates the wearer to keep the device in their mouth for a long period. Check out this article for more on the safety of this appliance. While expanding the jaw, it may also correct any misalignment in the lower and upper jaws to create a better one. The results are usually better teeth comfort because of created space, teeth alignment, and a more beautiful smile.

Typically, children benefit more from a palatal expander. The reason is that they are still in their formative years, so it is easier to manipulate jaw development. That is why the treatment is usually reserved for children, although a few young adults may get some benefits from its usage. Generally, it may help to reduce the need for corrective surgery on the jaw in later years or tooth extraction due to discomfort resulting from a lack of space.

How Does the Device Work?

The device, as an orthodontic appliance, has several types of designs, but they all function in the same basic way. There may be only slight differences along the way; however, they achieve the same results. Like all orthodontic appliances, the device is usually custom-made to fit the wearer because mouths are not a general size and shape.

It is positioned inside the mouth and turned to fit some upper back teeth. The device is usually in the shape of two halves meeting and holding at the center with the help of a screw. After it is correctly positioned inside the mouth and fitted to the teeth, you can activate it by using a key to turn the screw. The halves on the upper back teeth put pressure on the teeth as you turn the screw. The pressure also applies to the maxillary bones’ junction.

The constant pressure pushes the bones apart and leads the jaw to begin expanding. As soon as the jaw reaches the expansion point desired by the orthodontist, the pressure eases, but the device stays in place for a little longer. This is to allow the new jawbones to form and stabilize the expansion. The time it takes to happen depends on the individual, but your doctor will determine when to remove the appliance.

When you hear that the jaw expands, it may sound like a complex and excruciating process. However, the opposite is the case; the process is simple and without pain. The upper jaw consists of two halves that do not join until an individual gets to their mid-teens. That is why the palatal expander is ideal for younger people; it separates the halves before they fuse together. As a result, new bones can form where the space is.

Typically, the expander stays in the mouth to expand the upper for several weeks. That is how long it takes for the expansion to become complete. However, the process needs to be stable and the new bone needs to fuse before the orthodontist can remove the appliance. So, it may take another six months for that to happen and the device can be removed.

Why Your Child May Need an Expander

There are three primary reasons your child may need a palatal expander and they are: impacted teeth, severe crowding, and a crossbite. 

Impacted teeth happen when teeth block the path of new ones springing out. Consequently, they become stuck within the bone and tissue; in some cases, they may become painful and may need an extraction or invasive surgery. But an expander can create the required space for the teeth to come out.

Severe crowding is when the jaw does not have the space to accommodate all the incoming teeth. Typically, it is recommended that parents take their children for an orthodontic evaluation before they turn 7 years. That way, an orthodontist can determine whether or not the jaw is wide enough for permanent teeth growth before they even begin growing. And if there is a possibility of severe crowding, the orthodontist can fit a palate expander.

A crossbite is when the lower jaw is wider than the upper one. If this happens, the bottom row extends beyond the upper row, causing a misalignment. There are posterior and anterior crossbites, but an expander is ideal for a posterior one. If a severe type of crossbite is not fixed early enough, it may lead to facial structure changes, pain, and even wear in the enamel.

Expectations When Wearing the Device

The appliance takes some getting used to, especially when it comes to speaking and chewing. However, the discomfort lasts only several days, and your child becomes accustomed to wearing it. There is nothing to worry about if the front teeth have a space appearing between them. It shows the device is performing its duty of expanding the jaw.

You must activate the appliance before it can work. To do that, bend the user’s neck to the back and insert the appliance’s key into the designated hole. Ensure the key completely dips to the back of the mouth until it does not go any further. The next hole in the appliance should be fully visible to you at this point. Now, pull the key out by pressing it back and down as if heading to the tongue. Visit https://www.healthline.com/ to learn more about adjusting the expander.


Several methods of fixing dental issues exist, including using orthodontic appliances. A palatal jaw expander is one such device and works at creating more space for incoming teeth by expanding the jawbone. It works best for growing children, so if your child has to wear it, there is no cause for alarm. Their teeth will come out looking better and more beautiful.

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