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What is a palate expander?
A palate expander — also called an orthodontic or palatal expander — is an oral device used to widen a narrow upper jaw. It fits in the roof of your mouth and gradually moves both halves of your jawbone apart.
Palate expanders are most commonly used in children. But teens and adults can have them, too.
Who might need a palate expander?
Your dentist or orthodontist might recommend a palate expander if you have:
- Crowded teeth.
- Overlapping teeth.
- Crooked teeth.
- Impacted teeth.
- Difficulty chewing.
- A misaligned bite (crossbite, open bite, overbite, underbite).
A palate expander widens your jaw. This can make more space for your teeth or improve the way your upper and lower teeth fit together.
Expanding the palate may also help children and adults who have obstructive sleep apnea.
At what age should a child get a palate expander?
People of any age can have a palate expander. But in children, jawbones are still forming and developing. For this reason, orthodontists often recommend that children start wearing a palate expander when they’re 7 or 8 years old. When your orthodontist starts moving bones this early on, it can reduce the likelihood that your child will need more invasive procedures later in life. In most cases, it takes two months to three months to achieve desired results.
Because teens’ and adults’ bones are already strong and developed, it usually takes longer to achieve desired results with a palate expander — possibly up to one year.
Keep in mind, though, that everyone’s situation is unique and not everyone needs a palate expander as part of their treatment. Talk to your healthcare provider about what’s right for you.
What are the types of palate expanders?
There are several different types of palate expanders, depending on your specific needs. Some of the most common types of palate expanders include removable, rapid, surgically assisted and implant-supported.
Removable palate expander
A removable palate expander looks similar to a retainer, but it’s made from chrome instead of acrylic. Your orthodontist might recommend a removable palate expander if you only need to widen your jaw a little bit.
Rapid palate expander
A rapid palate expander fits in the roof of your mouth and attaches to your back upper teeth for stability. There’s a tiny screw in the middle that you turn a little bit every day with a special palate expander key. Over time, this tension moves your two palatal bones apart, widening your jaw.
Rapid palate expanders can widen your jaw at a rate of 0.5 millimeters per day. Most of the time, it takes between three months and six months to achieve desired results.
Surgically assisted rapid palate expander (SARPE)
Surgically assisted palate expanders are often used for moderate to severe cases, or for adults who have fully developed facial bones. An oral surgeon places this type of expander into your mid-palatal suture (the line where the left and right sides of your palate meet). Like rapid palate expanders, these devices rely on your back upper teeth for support.
Similar to a rapid palate expander, you’ll need to activate your expander a little bit every day. This continues until you achieve the desired width.
Implant-supported palate expander
Typically reserved for teens and adults, this type of palate expander applies force to four mini dental implants rather than your teeth. This allows your provider to apply pressure directly to your upper jaw.
With this type of palate expander, your orthodontist will work closely with an oral surgeon or periodontist, who’ll place the dental implants.
How will I know if my child or I need a palate expander?
If you have a narrow palate that’s causing crowding or bite issues, your dentist can talk with you about your treatment options. They may refer you to an orthodontist for a consultation.
How do palate expanders work?
Your palate (the roof of your mouth) has two halves joined by a “suture” in the middle (where the left and right sides of your palate fuse together). A palate expander applies gentle, steady force on each side of your palate. This slowly pushes the two halves apart, widening your upper jaw over time. As your palate widens, new bone regenerates and fills the space left behind.
How painful is a palate expander?
Like any new dental device, palate expander can cause minor discomfort for the first few days. Some people have slight discomfort after turning the key, too. To reduce tenderness, take over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen.
Palate expanders shouldn’t cause severe pain or discomfort. If you develop any concerning side effects, call your dentist or orthodontist right away.
Risks / Benefits
What are the advantages of a palate expander?
In the right cases, a palate expander offers a number of benefits, including:
- It can correct a wide range of dental issues, including misalignment and crowding.
- In children, it can help reduce the need for oral surgery later in life.
- It’s compatible with other orthodontic appliances, such as braces and headgear.
What are the risks or complications of a palate expander?
While age isn’t a risk, it’s important to note that palate expanders for adults may require more time. Because adult bones are already fully formed and developed, it takes longer to move them.
In addition, it can take some time to get used to a new palate expander. Temporary side effects might include:
Some people who have a palate expander may experience anterior teeth spacing, which will then be corrected with orthodontics. The 12 teeth in the front of your mouth are your anterior teeth.
Lastly, food, debris and plaque can accumulate on your palate expander, causing a bad taste or smell. Make sure you clean your expander thoroughly every day to prevent this.
Recovery and Outlook
How long do palate expanders stay in?
It depends on several factors, including age, the severity of your condition and compliance. For example, an 8-year-old child may only need a month or two to widen their palate. An adult, whose bones have already fully developed, might need several months to a year or longer.
Even after your palate expands to the appropriate width, your provider will likely leave the device in place for an additional four months to six months. This gives your jawbone time to fuse together and become strong.
Is a palate expander really necessary?
If you have a narrow palate due to skeletal issues, then, yes, a palate expander is necessary to correct your bite. Braces can move teeth, but they can’t move your jawbone. Your dentist or orthodontist can let you know if a palate expander should be part of your treatment plan.
Can a palate expander cause facial changes?
No. A palate expander widens your jaw, but it doesn’t change the actual appearance of your face.
Some studies show that a palatal expander can have positive effects on your nose. Because the nasal cavity widens, it causes a reduction in nasal airflow resistance.
When to Call the Doctor
When should I see my healthcare provider?
If you or your child has crowded, overlapped, crooked or impacted teeth, schedule an appointment with your dentist. There are several treatments available to improve the health, function and appearance of your smile. Your dentist can help determine an appropriate plan for you based on your goals.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Palate expanders widen narrow upper jaws. This gives your dentist and orthodontist much more room to move teeth around to correct crowding, overlapping and other oral health problems. Palate expanders aren’t always a necessary aspect of orthodontic care, but they offer many advantages for people who need them.
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