Everything You Need to Know About Palate Expanders

A palate expander is a device that creates more mouth space by widening the palate (the roof of the mouth). It is an orthodontic treatment sometimes used before placing dental braces

This article explains palate expander uses, types, side effects, and care. It also covers how to care for the device.

Metal palate expander on teeth molding

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Palate Expander Uses

Orthodontists sometimes use palate expanders to widen the roof of the mouth to create more space for shifting teeth. They are recommended for people with crossbites (malocclusion, when the top and bottom teeth do not come together properly) and dental crowding (teeth that are competing for space grow in improperly).

The device works best in kids because the bones in a child's mouth are still growing and their palates usually are not fused. That makes them more easily moldable.

An orthodontist usually cements an expander device to the teeth. Then, over time, you or the practitioner gradually increases the outward pressure by turning a key in the device. Treatment lasts between three and nine months.

Palate expanders may be used to create more space for permanent teeth. More commonly, though, they are used before applying braces.

If a narrow mouth is left untreated, a person may experience dental complications such as:

Palate expanders are also known as:

Palate Expander Types

There are several different types of palate expanders, including some that are removable. However, they are often secured in the mouth until the treatment is complete.

Removable

A removable palate expander is a device that you can take out, like a retainer. However, even though you can take the device out, it is still meant to be worn all the time. You might remove it for eating or cleaning. 

Orthodontists usually reserve these types of devices for minor situations. You turn these devices less frequently than those affixed in the mouth—every few days instead of every day.

Hyrax

This type of device is held in place by bands around the teeth. The middle of the device sits over the roof of the mouth. It contains several screws, which widen the device as you turn them. People are usually advised to turn the screws with a key-type device every day.

Quad Helix

Like the hyrax, the quad helix device ("quad" for short) attaches to the teeth with metal bands. It is a "U"-shaped metal device that uses four, helix (corkscrew-shaped) springs to achieve expansion.

You don’t have to turn a key or activate the device manually at home. Instead, an orthodontist will adjust it at periodic visits. 

Haas

A Haas expander is similar to a hyrax device. However, acrylic covers the screws that sit over the roof of the mouth. An orthodontist adheres this device to the teeth with metal bands. It requires daily adjustments at home with a turn-key.

Care

Like all dental appliances, palate expanders can take a little time to get used to. However, the adjustment period usually is only a few days. With the device in place, you will need to take special care while eating, adjusting the device, and brushing your teeth.

Eating

As you get used to your new device, you may want to eat foods that don’t require a lot of chewing. Soft foods like yogurt, mashed potatoes, applesauce, and cottage cheese can help you get used to the feeling of the appliance while you eat.

After the first few days, you won’t need to limit yourself to soft foods. You will be able to resume eating what you usually like, with some modifications to protect your device. Your orthodontist will likely advise you to limit or avoid the following:

  • Gum
  • Taffy
  • Caramel
  • Chewing ice
  • Hard candy
  • Popcorn
  • Nuts

In addition, rather than biting directly into raw veggies and fruits, you should cut them into bite-size pieces. 

Adjusting

When you insert a tool into a hole in the device and turn it, you increase pressure on the palate expander. You can think of the process as turning a key in a lock. Depending on the type of expander you have, you will need to adjust your device between a couple of times a week to a couple of times per day.

Your orthodontist will show you how to adjust your device. They will also send instructions home with you. 

Some discomfort throughout treatment is expected since you are exerting pressure inside your mouth. However, if you experience unusual pain, you should contact your orthodontist right away for an evaluation. 

Brushing

Keeping your teeth and palate expander appliance clean is crucial. While you receive treatment, be sure to floss and brush your teeth and the appliance regularly. If you have a removable palate expander, you can remove your device for cleaning; otherwise, you will clean the device as you brush your teeth.

Some research has found that electric toothbrushes are more effective than manual toothbrushes to clean teeth in kids with palate expanders.

Potential Side Effects


Side effects of palate expanders are usually temporary and short-lived. However, they can also be more serious. Risks include:

  • Discomfort during treatment
  • Speech changes
  • Traumatic separation of the midpalatal suture (the central fusion of the hard palate)
  • Lack of cooperation 
  • Bite opening (a gap between top and bottom teeth when the mouth is closed)
  • Relapse (palate shifts back out of position)
  • Root resorption (when the body’s immune system dissolves a tooth’s root, which can occur with orthodontic pressure)

Palate Expander Alternatives

Palate expanders work best in kids before the palate bone is fused. However, if an orthodontist determines a palate expander isn’t the best choice for you, you have other options. Options for expanding a narrow mouth include:

Summary

Palate expanders are orthodontic devices that expand a narrow mouth and are primarily used in children. There are several types of palate expanders. Some are held in place with bands on the back teeth, and some devices are removable. Depending on the device type, you will adjust your device with a tool, increasing the pressure between a couple of times a week to a couple of times a day. You should avoid hard, sticky food items that could damage the appliance.

A Word From Verywell

If you've been told you or your child needs a palate expander, you may be wondering if it's the right choice in your situation. While orthodontists have used palate expanders for decades, they aren't for everyone, especially adults. In addition, there are alternatives to increasing space in your mouth, including extraction, braces, and jaw surgery. So, if you're unsure, seek a second opinion.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are palate expanders painful?

    Overall, palate expanders are not painful to install or live with. However, they do take some getting used to. In addition, since they are moving bone, they can result in some discomfort and pressure during treatment. Over-the-counter pain medication can help with this.

  • How long do you have to wear a palate expander?

    Palate expander treatment usually lasts between three and nine months. Your orthodontist will customize your treatment to best fit your situation.

  • What is the best age to get a palate expander?

    Palate expanders work best when they are applied before a child's peak teenage growth spurt. That's because a child's bones are more malleable (flexible) before this time. To ensure you are getting treatment at the best time, it's good to get an orthodontic evaluation when your child is around age 7.

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9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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