- Palate expanders are most successful in children.
- Adults might be able to get their palates expanded, but the process is difficult and unreliable.
- Expanding your palate could change your smile in a favorable way.
- There are a wide variety of palate expanders, some of which can be removed for certain activities such as eating and swimming.
For adults, the roof of your mouth feels like a single strong bone, but it wasn’t always that way. Before you hit puberty, your palate, also known as your maxilla, was comprised of two bones that came together at the center, or the midline suture. Eventually, these bones fuse, but before they do, they can be fairly easily adjusted using a palate expander.
What is a palate expander?
This custom-made orthodontic device, also called a jaw widener, is designed to widen the palate in order to treat a wide range of dental concerns. It literally stretches the cartilage between the bones of your palate, making room for new bone to grow.
These orthodontic appliances are most commonly used in young children whose palates have not completely fused. However, some orthodontists suggest that palatal expansion is possible in adults, although the process is more difficult.
What do palate expanders look like?
Many of the palate expanders on the market operate in a similar manner. For the purposes of this article, we’ll speak generally about palate expanders, with a focus on rapid palatal expanders, which are among the most common type. If you’d like to learn more about the various palate expanders, see our question below on the different types.
Traditional palate expanders attach to the roof of your mouth. Typically, wires wrap around some of the upper teeth in the back and the sides of your upper jaw. These wires meet in the middle at a metal gear. In some cases, this central gear is encased in molded plastic.
Palate expanders are customized to fit the patient, so the gear should fit snugly in the top of the mouth. It will be visible to anyone who looks closely or catches you laughing or yawning but it is not as obvious as traditional braces.
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How do palate expanders work?
Traditional palate expanders work using a special key. Each half of the device is attached to a half of the palate, as described above. The key cranks the device, widening the space between the separate halves.
The orthodontist will give the device its first crank and show you how to do the same. From then on, you or your child will be responsible for cranking the device. Your orthodontist will tell you how much and how frequently to crank it. Try to be as consistent as possible. Crank it around the same time of day each time to ensure that the time between cranks is close to even.
According to Dr. Gavin Mack, a consultant orthodontist at 92 Dental in London, cranking will typically result in a gain of about one millimeter a week. This might not seem like much, but it’s important that you take it easy and not rush the process. “The best practice with palate expansion is to do it slowly,” says Dr. Mack. “This allows both the jaws and the roots of the teeth to adjust.” If the adjustment is rushed, more dental work could be in your future.
Some types of palate expanders do not require any key cranking. The quad helix device, for example, works under the pressure of the device itself. Although it is effective, it reportedly comes with limited skeletal change. In other words, it might not have as dramatic an effect as devices that require manual cranking, and could be insufficient for some patients.
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What do palate expanders treat?
A narrow palate can lead to several dental issues, most of which are related to the idea that your mouth is not large enough to accommodate your teeth.
- Crossbite: When your upper jaw doesn’t match your lower jaw, crossbite can occur. This means your teeth aren’t aligned properly, leading to bite problems. For example, your upper back teeth might bite down on the inside of the lower back teeth instead of lining up. This condition can lead to other orthodontic problems and affect your smile. Widening the upper jaw, and sometimes the lower jaw, can help realign the teeth.
- Crowding: Put simply, this means your mouth isn’t big enough to accommodate all of your teeth. Palate expansion can be used to make your mouth larger, eliminating the need to extract permanent teeth.
- Impacted teeth: An impacted tooth is a tooth that has formed beneath the gum but doesn’t have the necessary space to break through to the surface. Widening the jaw can make the necessary space. Where palate expanders are concerned, this most often happens with canines and eye teeth.
- Breathing problems: A very narrow jaw can block airflow in the nasal passages, leading to conditions like sleep apnea. Widening the jaw will help open these passages and improve breathing.
- Cleft palate: Patients with this condition will sometimes have their palates widened before they undergo corrective procedures.
Many patients who get palate expanders go on to need braces or other orthodontic treatments. According to Dr. Mack, “palate expansion is usually done before orthodontic treatment.” He emphasizes the importance of correcting bite issues before straightening teeth with braces, likening it to “setting up a solid foundation before you build a house.”
Do palate expanders hurt?
The idea of turning a gear inside your mouth, or your child’s, might have you a bit on edge. After all, you don’t want to be signing up for months of pain. The truth is it’s not as bad as you think.
When the palate expander is first placed, there will be some discomfort. Your jaw will be sore from the pressure of the device. You’ll also have difficulty speaking and eating as your tongue adjusts to the presence of the device. During this time, you might salivate excessively, which can be uncomfortable but will dissipate with time.
When you turn the key in the device, you shouldn’t feel pain. You will feel pressure in the roof of your mouth, your teeth, behind your nose, and possible even between your eyes. If you feel pain, stop turning the device and contact your orthodontist immediately. If the pain is bad enough, you can turn the device in the opposite direction to relieve pressure.
How long do I have to wear my palate expander?
On average, patients wear expanders for four to six months. It takes one to three months to achieve the desired width. Then your orthodontist will leave the expander in place for an additional few months to allow bone to grow in the gap created by the device.
Palate expansion is permanent in most cases, but there can be some narrowing of the palate as it settles. Your orthodontist might choose to overexpand your palate to account for any relapse and ensure that the necessary width is achieved.
Will the palate expander change my face?
Some people report dramatic changes in their face or that of their child and others don’t notice any difference. This disparity could be due to differences in the degree of expansion. It could also come down to how gradual the expansion is.
If you notice any changes, they’ll center around the upper jaw and nose. Your nose might become flatter and your smile might become broader. For children, whose faces are still developing, changes occur regardless and it is difficult to tell what is the result of palate expansion and what can be chalked up to a natural growth process.
A gap of one or two millimeters can develop between your front teeth when the palate expander is in use. The teeth are pulled apart because they are each attached to a different palatal bone. This is normal and can be corrected with a small set of braces after you’re finished with the expander.
Should I avoid certain foods with my palate expander?
When you first get your expander, give your mouth a break and eat soft foods, like mashed potatoes and ice cream. After a day or two, you’ll stop salivating as much and your jaw won’t ache as much. You can then resume normal eating. However, you’ll probably still want to avoid sticky candies, like Jolly Ranchers, that can get stuck in the device and jam the expansion screw.
How do I clean my teeth with a palate expander?
Just as with braces, plaque can build up where the palate expander connects with the teeth. Make sure to floss and brush regularly. Use a proxy brush to get around the edges of the device. You can also try a water flosser for easier cleaning and you can lightly brush the device itself to keep food from collecting in the gears.
What are the different types of palate expanders?
It’s likely you’ll be fitted with a fixed palate expander that cranks in the middle. However, there are several different types you might want to explore with your orthodontist. The following list covers a handful of the more popular devices to give you an idea of the general variations available.
- Rapid palatal expander: This is the traditional palate expander described in this article. Types of rapid palatal expanders include the Haas and hyrax expanders. This process is sometimes referred to as rapid maxillary expansion.
- Schwartz appliance: Like the rapid palatal expander, this expander requires regular cranking with a key. However, it is removable. It’s recommended that this device be worn 24 hours a day, except when eating, brushing your teeth, swimming, or playing contact sports. This device can also be worn around the upper or lower teeth.
- Quad helix palate expander: This fixed palate expander does not require any cranking. It is used to widen the front or back of the jaw. It curves with the palate, pushing the teeth outward to expand it. This palate expander is slower than devices like the rapid palatal expander, but is similar to the W arch expander.
Put simply, you can choose between rapid and slow expansion and removable or fixed devices. Beyond that, the device your orthodontist recommends could come down to personal preference.
» Want to learn more about your palatal expansion options? Meet our medical review team for more information.
Can adults get palate expanders?
As was mentioned above, this is up for debate. Many websites will tell you that palate expansion for adults is impossible because the palate sets at puberty. Some adults do undergo treatment with palate expanders, but results are often mixed.
Adults who do undergo palate expansion often do so with the help of surgery. An incision is made in the palate to separate the two bones that fused during puberty. However, some efforts have been made to expand adult palates without surgical intervention.
A 2000 study published in The Angle Orthodontist explored the possibility of palate expansion in adults using a traditional Haas expander and no surgery. The researchers compared the performance of the expander in 47 adults and 47 children. Ultimately, the Haas expander was deemed somewhat successful in the adults, although not nearly as successful as it was for the children.
One of the researchers expanded on these results in a 2011 study published in the American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics. He noted that nonsurgical palate expansion in adults works differently. Most of the widening starts with the alveolar process, the bone on which teeth grow, as opposed to the palatal bones.
Dr. Mack notes that palatal expansion “works best in people between the ages of eight and twelve” because the jaw is “most malleable to outside change.” He goes on to state that when you’re older, palatal expansion “generally takes longer, is more painful, and has less permanent results.” However, he concedes that successful palatal expansion in adults is not impossible.
How much do palate expanders cost?
Prices depend on where you live, who your orthodontist is, and your overall treatment plan. However, palate expanders typically run around $2000 to $3000. Insurance often covers the cost of palate expanders, but that can depend on why you or your child needs one.
- 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)
Comprehensive treatment that includes an expansion appliance can cost between $3500-6000, depending on the length of your treatment with braces, the type of braces you select and any additional upgrades that you select for your treatment.Do palate expanders affect your appearance? ›
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.Do expanders give you a jawline? ›
A Herpst appliance or a palatal expander can move the jaw or widen the upper jaw. These treatments will help correct your alignment concerns and create a more natural look for your smile and jawline.What age is too late for palate expander? ›
After the age of five and up until about sixteen, your child is in the perfect place to reap the most benefits from an expander. At these ages, most of a child's adult teeth and molars have come in. It is preferable that a few adult teeth in the upper jaw have not yet appeared.Does an expander affect your speech? ›
One of the main drawbacks of a palatal expander that includes a jackscrew is its bulkiness in the palatal region . Since nearly 90% of all consonants are articulated in the anterior part of the oral cavity, this can lead to temporary speech difficulties .What is the average age for palate expander? ›
The ideal age for a child to get a palate expander is when they're young, around 7 to 8 years old. The palate is forming rapidly, so it's easier for orthodontists to reshape.Is it hard to eat with a palate expander? ›
At first, eating will be more difficult; take small bites & eat soft foods until this is overcome (usually a few days to a week). After that, you should be able to eat almost everything you did before with some exceptions (see No-No Food List). You will notice several things as the expander does its job.How long do expanders stay in? ›
Typically, an expander will be in place for about 9 months total time. This may vary from child to child depending on his or her needs.What to avoid with expanders? ›
Avoid Sticky and Hard Foods
Chewy or sticky candy like chewing gum, taffy, licorice, and caramels should be avoided. Hard and crunchy foods like popcorn, nuts, and ice are also not recommended with a palate expander.
Will it Hurt? There will be some discomfort at first, but there will not be a lot of pain. The expander may feel heavy in your mouth at first, since it is something new and different in there. When the palate expander is widened, you may feel some pressure in your mouth and on your tongue.Do expanders widen your smile? ›
Expanders are an effective way to fix a narrow smile by actually moving the bones and widening the dental arch. Once that's complete, other teeth straightening treatment can begin.Is there an alternative to a palate expander? ›
A more effective, simpler, and less costly alternative than a palatal expander is to use an appliance called a space maintainer. Interestingly, baby molars are larger in size than the permanent premolars that replace them. A space maintainers holds the extra space that is left when the baby teeth fall out.How do you swallow with an expander? ›
You may notice your mouth producing more saliva when you first get the expander. If this occurs, make a conscious effort to swallow normally by closing your lips and pushing your tongue up against the roof of your mouth. Dry not to “slurp” as it will drive your family crazy!Do you always need braces after a palate expander? ›
Depending on your orthodontic needs, you may or may not require braces after wearing an expander. This is because braces correct the alignment of teeth that are already grown into place, which may not be necessary if an expander creates more space between teeth so teeth can straighten themselves.Can I turn my expander 4 times a day? ›
The expander will be activated ONLY one time a day, for approximately 28-42 turns. Do not turn more than prescribed by Dr. Stormberg. If an unusual amount of discomfort is felt and medication is not relieving the discomfort, skip a day.How long does it take to put on a palate expander? ›
The expansion of the palate is usually completed in 1-3 weeks. However, the appliance remains in the mouth for a longer period, generally 5-6 months to allow the new bone that has formed to mature.Does expander lisp go away? ›
The lisp usually goes away for most patients, who start talking as they did before once their tongues adapt. Because the expander sits in the roof of the mouth, the tongue has to learn to move around it. To speed up the process, talking out loud as much as possible after the expander is in place can help.How long will lisp last with expander? ›
As the patient gets used to the expander, they will notice it less. At first, talking will seem a little different, and for the first few hours, the patient may find that they speak with a lisp, but this too will go away in a few hours to a day.Can you eat everything with an expander? ›
Include lots of fruits and vegetables, along with meat, milk and whole grain bread. Do not eat sticky or chewy foods such as gum, taffy, caramels or licorice. Do not eat hard foods like ice, nuts or popcorn. Whole raw carrots, celery and apples should be cut into bite-size pieces.
The palate fuses together between ages 14 and 16, so beginning treatment with a palatal expander before the palate merges is ideal. Although treatment is optimal in the earlier years, adults can also benefit from palate expansion.Which is better palate expander or braces? ›
While palate expanders create more space and adjust issues and habits, braces are for correcting the placement of the teeth. Braces utilize those same spaces in the mouth provided by the palate expander to slowly move the teeth into a predetermined position that will result in a perfectly straight smile!Can you eat pizza with expanders? ›
PIZZA CRUST: The hard crust can bend the wires. The pizza part is ok. HARD PRETZELS, HARD ROLLS, BAGELS: They bend wires and break brackets. DORITOS, HARD TACOS, CHEETOS and the LIKE: They are too crunchy!Can you eat Oreos with expanders? ›
Soft cookies (without nuts) are good, but avoid hard cookies like Oreos and Chips Ahoy unless you're a milk dunker. Ice cream is fine, but skip the nuts and hard candy toppings. Milkshakes are good also, as are jello, pudding, and soft cake.How long does palate expander pain last? ›
Do Palatal Expanders Hurt? For the first few days after receiving the palatal expander, your child may experience some discomfort and difficulty speaking and eating. However, the expander should not cause pain.How painful is a palate expander? ›
As with any orthodontic appliance, there will be some minor discomfort at first, but there will not be any kind of excruciating pain. Palate expander pain will be minimal and will usually be felt in the jaw and sometimes present as pressure below the eyes or at the top of the nose.How often do they fill expanders? ›
The expander is used to stretch the skin to make room for the implant. This stretching happens over a period of months. Every 1 to 2 weeks, the expander is filled with a little more salt water or air.How often are expanders filled? ›
You will need to make appointments every 1 to 2 weeks for several months to have your expanders inflated. Each expander has a tiny valve that is located under your skin. The surgeon or nurse will inject saline into the valve, filling the expander in stages.What food is best after expander? ›
Start With Soft Foods
The first few days after getting a palate expander, your child may benefit from eating a soft foods diet. Give them smoothies, pureed soups, mashed potatoes, yogurt, and, yes, even ice cream and pudding!
- Infection is when a germ sets up shop in your body. With tissue expanders, this is likely around the area of the port, where the skin is an open wound. ...
- If the expander leaks or rips, your surgeon may need to remove and replace it.
These teeth may be sensitive to pressure. This means the expander is working properly, and the two parts of the upper jaw are moving apart. The space may get quite large during the first few weeks of expansion. The space will close later, when the turning of the expander is complete.What happens if you turn your expander too much? ›
Patients are sometimes curious about what happens if you turn your expander too much. Turning the expander more than prescribed will compromise the results and cause more discomfort. It will not speed up treatment.Do expanders always work? ›
Does Everyone Get a Gap With an Expander? It is common for a gap to form. Yet, rarely will the size of the gap between the teeth ever get as large as the distance between the two sides of the orthodontic expander because the teeth start moving back together even before expansion is complete.Can I turn my expander myself? ›
While you can turn your expander yourself, it'll be trickier to see the inside of your mouth. Have a family member or other adult turn the expander for you to make the process easier. Try laying down on your back and having an adult turn your expander with the help of a flashlight if necessary.How do you clean under expander? ›
How Do I Clean My Expander? Brush your teeth as you usually would and brush carefully around your appliance. Use a Water Pik® and/or the water syringe we gave you to dislodge food particles that may be trapped under the expander. Avoid all foods on the "no no list" we provided you – ESPECIALLY POPCORN!Is palate size genetic? ›
In conclusion, we found that both sex and ancestry influence modern human palate shape, suggesting a possible genetic component underlying this variation. Additionally, our findings indicate that palatal vault height and anteroposterior and/or mediolateral palatal dimensions tend to co-vary.Can you widen your mouth without surgery? ›
If you want to widen your mouth, your orthodontist will likely recommend a palatal expander. This orthodontic appliance is fixed to the upper arch of teeth. The patient uses a key to slowly crank the device and push against the molars to widen the jaw.Do palatal expanders change face shape? ›
Does Palatal Expander Change Face Shape? Palate expander will not make your face wider. However, if you have a facial asymmetry associated with posterior dental cross bite, then palatal expander can improve your facial asymmetry.Are palate expanders safe? ›
Naturally, this is one of the first questions parents ask us. We want to assure you that using a palatal expander will not hurt your child. However, since it does apply pressure to the growing jaw bones, it can cause some mild discomfort, particularly during the first few days.Why is it so hard to eat with a palate expander? ›
Your bite will feel off as the width of your palate changes
As the palate expands the teeth will not fit together properly, this is normal.
A palate expander is an orthodontic tool used to widen the palate — the roof of the mouth, also referred to as the maxilla — over time. Some children need them, and some don't. It depends on your child's mouth and the orthodontist's treatment plan. Everyone is unique, including their palate shape.Can you eat pizza with an expander? ›
PIZZA CRUST: The hard crust can bend the wires. The pizza part is ok. HARD PRETZELS, HARD ROLLS, BAGELS: They bend wires and break brackets. DORITOS, HARD TACOS, CHEETOS and the LIKE: They are too crunchy!What is the best age for a palate expander? ›
Five to Sixteen Years Old
This is the prime age for palatal expander. Children in this age group have most of their adult teeth, often including their molars.
Palate expander will not make your face wider. However, if you have a facial asymmetry associated with posterior dental cross bite, then palatal expander can improve your facial asymmetry. Expanding the maxilla will correct your jaw to the way it was meant to be, and have it looking the way it was meant to look.What foods should you avoid with a palate expander? ›
Do not eat sticky or chewy foods such as gum, taffy, caramels or licorice. Do not eat hard foods like ice, nuts or popcorn. Whole raw carrots, celery and apples should be cut into bite-size pieces.Why does my expander hurt so much? ›
As previously noted, if the expander is turned too quickly, excessive pressure can result, which may cause pain or discomfort.What should I eat when I first get a palate expander? ›
Start With Soft Foods
Give them smoothies, pureed soups, mashed potatoes, yogurt, and, yes, even ice cream and pudding! You can make getting their palate expander fun by letting them pick out all the soft foods they want to eat in those initial days after having it put in.
Chewy or sticky candy like chewing gum, taffy, licorice, and caramels should be avoided. Hard and crunchy foods like popcorn, nuts, and ice are also not recommended with a palate expander. Instead, opt for softer snacks and try satisfying your child's sweet tooth with fruit or softer desserts like ice cream.