Orthodontic Expanders

Orthodontic expanders are some of the most important orthodontic treatments currently in use in the United States. Also known as palate expanders and maxillary expanders, these devices work to make the upper jaw wider so that orthodontic problems and crossbites can easily be corrected. At OMG Smiles, we regularly use maxillary expanders to enhance orthodontic treatment outcomes. There are many exciting benefits of using this treatment that we will discuss below:

Upper jaw expansion is a natural process.

Palatal expanders can be used to augment the upper jaw until around the age of 14 or 15 years before the midpalatal suture has fused together permanently. The midpalatal suture is the meeting point between the right and left halves of the upper palate. This midline area of the upper palate can be expanded by slowly and gently pushing the right and left halves of the palate away from each other. As the two halves of the palate are pushed outward, new bone tissues are created within the midpalatal suture area which makes the upper jaw wider than it otherwise would have been without the use of an orthodontic expander. The process of changing the width of the palate is spurred by natural processes involved in a child’s growth.

The expansion process is easy.

Orthodontic expanders are activated daily using a special “key” that is inserted into a mechanism inside the mouth at the center of the expander. Expansion takes place at a rate of only about 0.2 millimeters per day, so the process is very slow, not painful and in fact, most children barely notice that there are changes occurring in the upper palate. Over time, the palate expands to the desired width. Typically, the expansion process takes only 3 to 6 weeks of daily activation to reach the desired jaw width that will make it possible for additional orthodontic treatments to proceed more smoothly.

Orthodontic treatment is simplified and enhanced by palatal expanders.

During the expansion process, patients often must go for orthodontic visits frequently. Some patients may be asked to see the orthodontist every two weeks while others may need to see the orthodontist every week. Regular and frequent check-ups are necessary because the orthodontist at OMG Smiles needs to monitor the progress carefully so that the process can be halted once the appropriate width has been reached.

After the initial expansion is complete, the expander is left in the mouth so that the bone can fuse normally at the desired width. Typically, an orthodontic expander is left in place for about 6 months so that the midpalatal suture can become strong and stable for the next part of the orthodontic process. Various orthodontic issues can be corrected using an expander.

At OMG Smiles, we use maxillary expanders in a variety of ways to treat different types of orthodontic issues. For example, the use of an expander is common for treating posterior crossbites. A posterior crossbite occurs when the upper back teeth crossover so that they go on the inside of the lower back teeth when the patient bites down. A posterior crossbite may be unilateral or bilateral, but prior to the development of expanders, it was difficult to treat this problem effectively. Using an expander, it is now possible to correct a posterior crossbite.

In addition to the problem of crossbites, we also regularly correct asymmetries of the lower jaw using expanders on our patients at OMG Smiles. Sometimes, patients come to us with an upper jaw that is too narrow. When this happens, a child may be forced to pick a preferred chewing side which can cause the lower jaw to veer off to the opposite side. This problem can enhance issues caused by a crossbite. Patients who persistently move their lower jaw off to one side in order to chew can cause a permanent asymmetry to occur along with other issues such as temporomandibular joint syndrome. An orthodontic expander can be used to create a better balance in terms of the size of the upper and lower jawbones so that the patient can have a healthy dental prognosis and an aesthetically pleasing smile.

By expanding the upper jaw, a number of orthodontic obstacles can be removed. The lower jaw can be centered, and additional space can be generated in the upper palate so that braces or other orthodontic treatments can proceed smoothly to create a beautiful smile. By generating space in the upper palate, the expander helps alleviate crowding of the teeth.

Patients breathe easier (literally) as a result of orthodontic expanders.

When the upper jaw is expanded, our patients at OMG Smiles often report that breathing through the nose becomes easier. This is because upper palate expansion also expands the nasal airway. It is not a predictable consequence of palate expansion, but many patients have reported this side effect.

For children who breathe through the mouth, snore at night, or have sleep apnea due to a narrow upper jaw, a palate expander can even make a crucial difference in the child’s general health over time. Sleep apnea, which is fairly common in children, can affect a child’s emotional as well as intellectual development. And while snoring may not be hazardous to health, a child who snores may very well turn into an adult who snores. And snoring can wreak havoc on relationships. Snoring and sleep apnea are often related, and both can, in some cases, be relieved by the use of an upper palate expander.


Orthodontic expanders offer numerous benefits that range from the achievement of aesthetic goals to better relationships and general health. While this orthodontic treatment is only effective for children younger than age 14 or 15 years, for those patients who qualify, the final results can be dramatic and extremely beneficial. Orthodontic expanders make a number of additional orthodontic maneuvers easier and more powerful which is why this treatment process has become so popular for our younger patients. Contact Dr. Amy Buchler at OMG Smiles for more information!