Everything You Need to Know about Your Expander

A common first step of orthodontic treatment is an expander. Expanders, or palatal expanders, are orthodontic appliances that increase the space between the halves of the upper jaw. While that sounds scary and painful, expanders are very common and relatively painless! Many young, growing orthodontic patients have expanders, and they can help make sure you don’t have to undergo surgery later!


In This Post, We’ll Cover

  • What is an Expander?
  • Do Expanders Hurt?
  • Why You Need an Expander
  • How to Tighten an Expander?


What is an Expander?

Expanders are appliances that work to separate the two halves of the maxilla, or the upper jaw. An orthodontic expander is typically used in early treatment because expansion works the best on growing mouths, the bones haven’t solidified there yet. Having an expander early in orthodontic treatment can prevent some jaw surgeries later in life. For this reason, palate expanders for adults are rare. Having an expander decreases future risk for impounded teeth, overcrowding, and numerous potential bite issues. 


Do Expanders Hurt?

One of our most common questions with dental expanders or any other appliance is how much it will hurt. Most of the time, an expander only causes soreness after what’s called activation, when you turn a key to widen the expansion appliance. Expanders are moving bones in the mouth, so some soreness after each activation is possible and expected. Like new Invisalign trays or other self-adjusting treatments, we suggest activating the expander right before bed to relieve some of the pain. 

If you forget or miss an activation, it’s ok! It’s important to not activate the expander twice the next night, just continue with the normal activation. While keeping on schedule is important and will help your child’s treatment go smoothly, please do not over-correct. 

Why You Need an Expander

Orthodontic experts can “look into the future” and predict common bite issues when your child first comes in for a visit. Expanders for teeth that show a risk of developing these bite problems are common first steps of treatment. Because of this, devices like expanders can be used to mitigate those issues and make sure they never occur at all. Expanders create space for new teeth or space for teeth to move into as braces do their job. By moving the bones of the upper jaw, expanders prepare the mouth for braces or other treatments. 


How to Tighten an Expander

Your expander will slowly separate the halves of the upper jaw. It’s able to do this because as a young child, the halves of the jaw are not connected by solid and mature bone. To do this, it must be adjusted. Adjusting an expander is easy, and your orthodontist will show you how when they install it. Expanders are activated by turning a key to widen the appliance.  


Activating an Expander:

  • Tilt your child’s head back
  • Insert the key into the hole in the expander
  • Push the key back until the next hole is visible
  • Remove the palate expander key carefully, with the next hole still visible

As always, please feel free to call your orthodontist with any questions or concerns about your expander or jaw movement. We are here to help you make your smile beautiful and as healthy as can be!