Palate Expander: How to Know if You Need One - Orthodontist Raleigh NC | Braces, Aligners, and Perfect Smiles (2023)

If you’re learning about a palate expander, you might already know that your palate is the roof of your mouth. You may have even seen images of a palate expander and think it’s the last thing you’d ever want to have in your mouth. Still, a palate expander is an important dental tool, and you can’t really make an informed decision without learning all the facts. Whether you’re hoping your dentist is wrong, or you want to know how a palate expander can improve your smile, here’s the place to learn everything you need to know about palate expanders.

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What is a Palate Expander?

A palate expander is an orthodontic appliance used to widen the roof of your mouth for better tooth and jaw placement. Simply put, it’s a jaw widener. While the bones in the roof of your mouth feel pretty hard to your tongue, they’re actually not fused together until you’re an adult. This means your orthodontist can use a palate expander to quickly treat dental concerns that might cause difficulty in the future.

Your palate expander looks like a plastic or metal gear that fits in the roof of your mouth. Wires wrap around some of your back teeth and meet at the gear. The device isn’t immediately noticeable. In fact, most people probably won’t notice it unless they’re looking closely when you open your mouth wide to yawn or laugh.

How it Works

A palate expander works with a special key that you (or your parent) turn a couple of times a day. Since your palate is made up of two bones, each half of the expander is connected to each side. When you turn the key to crank the device, the space between your palate bones widens a tiny bit. After the palate expander is seated (placed in your mouth), your orthodontist will give it its first crank and show you how it’s done. You’ll get instructions about how often to use the key and exactly how much to turn it.

Following your orthodontist’s instructions for use is important. If you routinely forget to use your key, your treatment won’t work as quickly as it’s supposed to. It’s also important to remember that you can’t try to rush your treatment. The device is designed to work slowly enough for your jaws and the roots of your teeth to adjust. Adding extra turns could damage your jaws, teeth, or gums, and result in extra dental work.

Who Needs a Palate Expander?

Kids. A palate expander can be used to fix a variety of dental issues, but they can’t be used on adults.


If you have certain dental issues, your dentist might recommend you see an orthodontist to get a palate expander. The best age for a patient to get a palate expander is around the time you become a teenager: 12-13 for girls, and 13-14 for boys. The most common reasons palate expanders are recommended include:

  • Crossbite: When you have a crossbite, some of your top teeth sit inside the bottom teeth when you close your mouth. A palate expander can fix this issue by widening your palate and pushing these teeth outward where they’re supposed to be.
  • Crowding: When your mouth or jaw is too small to fit all of your permanent teeth, they become crowded. This can cause teeth to overlap and create a painful bite. A palate expander can widen the jaw to give your teeth the space they need to grow properly and help you avoid the extraction of permanent teeth.
  • Impacted teeth: When your teeth are severely crowded, they may become impacted. An impacted tooth is a tooth that is formed below the jaw but doesn’t have any space to break through the gums. A palate expander will provide the gap your tooth needs to grow fully.

What to Expect When You Get a Palate Expander

We get it. Going to the dentist or orthodontist to have your teeth worked on is bad enough. The idea of getting a device put inside your mouth is intimidating. Luckily, it’s not as bad as it sounds, and we make every effort to make your experience a positive one.

Getting Your Palate Expander

When you’re getting ready to visit the orthodontist, knowing what to expect is half the battle. Since your expander will be customized to fit the shape of your mouth, you’ll need two appointments; one to take an impression of your mouth, and one to put your palate expander in place. At the first appointment, bands will be placed on your upper molars and an impression will be made.

After about two weeks, you’ll have a second appointment to have your palate expander put in place. Since the expander is designed for your mouth, fitting it in place is simple. Your orthodontist will prepare your teeth then use dental cement to attach the device to your upper teeth. After your palate expander is in place, your orthodontist will teach you and your parents to turn the expander, provide instructions for home, and discuss hygiene and diet tips.

Does a palate expander hurt?

Palate expander pain varies from one patient to the next. You can expect to notice some pressure, but you probably won’t experience significant pain.

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After your palate expander is seated, you’ll likely notice two things. Pressure from the device and that it’s kind of in the way. You’ll quickly notice pressure in the roof of your mouth, on your teeth, behind your nose, and maybe even between your eyes. Your jaw may be tender and you may develop a headache. If you need to, you’ll be allowed to take over-the-counter pain relievers until the initial tenderness subsides.

Your palate expander will also feel pretty bulky at first. It might feel like it’s in the way of your tongue, which can make eating and talking difficult. You’ll probably also notice some excess saliva as your mouth gets used to operating around the device.

Going Home After Getting Your Palate Expander

As soon as the orthodontist appointment is over, you’ll be wondering what you’ll feel like a few hours after you get home, or when you wake up in the morning. You’ll be feeling some pressure on your jaw and teeth, so you may not want to eat very much. Choosing soft foods like mashed potatoes, ice cream, soup, yogurt, pudding, and applesauce will help you stay full while you get used to the device in your mouth. Typically, patients don’t experience much pain. If your teeth or jaw is tender, or if you develop a headache, you can take over-the-counter pain relievers.

The things you will probably notice most as you get used to your palate expander, concerns how it fits in your mouth. Until your tongue gets used to working around the expander, you might have trouble speaking correctly. Eating might seem weird, and you’ll probably notice that food occasionally gets stuck in the roof of your mouth. After a few days, you’ll get used to the feeling of the palate expander and won’t notice it as much.

As you get used to your palate expander, you may only feel pressure for a few minutes after turning the expander. With continued treatment, you’ll notice movement in your teeth, like a gap between your front teeth. This gap may go away naturally. If not, treatment is simple with the use of clear aligners.

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Caring for Your Teeth with a Palate Expander

As you might have expected, taking care of your teeth while wearing a palate expander is a little different from what you’re used to. Your orthodontist will give you some instructions to help you learn how to reach the teeth surrounding the device. Brushing and flossing while wearing a palate expander is very important. Keeping your teeth, gums, and palate expander clean are important because:

  • Clean teeth and gums prevent tooth decay.
  • Unbrushed gums can swell and grow over the bands, slowing treatment.
  • Unhealthy gums become swollen and sore.

During the first few days after your palate expander is placed, you may not feel like eating the foods you usually eat. After a week, you’ll likely go back to eating the foods you love. Luckily, palate expanders don’t have as many food restrictions as regular braces. You should avoid gummy or sticky candy that will stick to the device and block the keyhole. Otherwise, most foods are fine.

It may seem scary when your dentist suggests you need a palate expander, but it’s not nearly as bad as it might seem. Treatment with a palate expander is typically less painful and faster than treatment with braces. Most importantly, a palate expander will help shape your jaw and teeth to improve your smile and help you avoid more serious dental treatment in the future. To learn more about treatment with a palate expander, get in touch with the Laster Orthodontics team today. We’re standing by to answer your questions, share information, or schedule an appointment.

At Laster Orthodontics, we help families develop healthy, life-changing smiles using customized treatments, cutting-edge technologies, and caring relationships. Our individualized treatment plans help our patients achieve their perfect smile in the quickest, most painless way possible by utilizing a wide range of options from traditional braces to propel accelerated treatment to Dr. Laster’s in-house aligner program, Laster Perfect Smile. With three locations throughout the Triangle Area, we create life-changing smiles every day.


Can I ask my orthodontist for a palate expander? ›

While the bones in the roof of your mouth feel pretty hard to your tongue, they're actually not fused together until you're an adult. This means your orthodontist can use a palate expander to quickly treat dental concerns that might cause difficulty in the future.

Are palate expanders covered by insurance? ›

Most insurance plans cover a portion of the cost, as palatal expanders may be considered medically necessary. You should check with your insurance provider for specifics on your coverage.

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.

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.

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.

How much should a palate expander cost? ›

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.

What can't you eat with an 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.

How much does it cost to turn an expander on? ›

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.

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 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 can go wrong with a palate expander? ›

Potential Side Effects
  • 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)
Apr 28, 2022

What happens if I miss a day of expander? ›

Your expander will be activated one turn per night or every other night for ______ days. I recommend activating the appliance at bedtime so by the next morning, the pressure from the turn is gone. If you forget one night, that's ok. Do not do more than 1 turn a day.

What is the next step after palate expander? ›

After we achieve our expansion in the upper jaw, the patient will be ready for braces. We will leave the expander in place and add the braces. This marks the beginning of the correction of the bite, crowding, spacing and rotations.

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.

At what age does your palate fuse? ›

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.

Are expanders really necessary? ›

Most people's jaws develop with enough room to accommodate their adult teeth, so they have no need for an expander. But in some cases, the upper jaw is too narrow to fit correctly with the lower jaw, leading to alignment problems and crowding of the teeth.

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.

How long after expander do you get braces? ›

Typically, 1-3 weeks. Some patients need longer, but not usually longer than 6 months. Sometimes the bones in your mouth just take longer to adjust and need time to form.

How long does it take to talk normal with a palate expander? ›

Dry not to "slurp" as it will drive your family crazy! This will go away as your brain gets use to the expander – typically after a couple of days. You may talk a little funny for a day or two until your tongue gets use to sharing space with the expander – but in no time you will speak normally.

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!

What food is easiest to eat with with expanders? ›

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.

Can you eat spaghetti with an expander? ›

DO EAT - soft and saucy foods. These will not cause discomfort and will not risk damage to your expander device, especially the first few days after you get your new expander. Consider eating foods like yogurt, apple sauce, scrambled eggs, pasta, and other similar options.

How do you swallow with an expander? ›

Take small sips and use a thin straw. Liquids will be easier to ingest than solid foods, since your tongue doesn't have to move the food around in your mouth to chew, only to swallow. Wipe your mouth frequently. A mouth with a palatal expander tends to produce a lot more saliva in general.

How do you clean an expander? ›

In order to ensure proper care, you need to use the right oral hygiene products. We always recommend patients use a soft bristled toothbrush and minimally abrasive toothpaste. You may also want to invest in a water flosser to thoroughly remove food particles and plaque from your palatal expander.

How do you get food out of an expander? ›

Food particles can get stuck under the expander, so ask your dentist for advice. Such recommendations could include a special syringe with water to flush out debris. There is also a flexible palate cleaner that fits under the expander and can push out food particles.

Can Invisalign work like a palate expander? ›

Invisalign is also able to expand the palate more than a traditional rapid palatal expander, but in a very narrow arch case or a compromised health case, we may choose to use a super-screw palatal expander before taking Invisalign impressions to get much more expansion at a faster rate.

Is it hard to talk with a palate expander? ›

One of the main drawbacks of a palatal expander that includes a jackscrew is its bulkiness in the palatal region [18]. Since nearly 90% of all consonants are articulated in the anterior part of the oral cavity, this can lead to temporary speech difficulties [21].

Can I turn my expander twice a week? ›

During the active phase of wear, the appliance should be activated twice per week by turning the expansion screw from top to bottom, using the key provided, in the direction indicated by the arrow on the appliance.

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.

Is it normal to not be able to swallow with an expander? ›

It's normal to experience some initial discomfort as well as difficulty swallowing and speaking for the first few days after the expander has been placed. To make sure that your child has his or her expander removed on time, it's important to adjust the palatal expander as directed by your child's orthodontist.

Can an expander cause sinus problems? ›

Sinusitis is a recognised rare complication of palatine expansion procedures and is due to the presence of an oroantral fistula.

How much does a palate expander move each turn? ›

The palatal expander slowly widens the upper jaw by putting gentle pressure on your upper molars each time the appliance is turned. Each turn only equates to 0.25mm, so the expansion is very slow and does not cause much discomfort.

How does a palate expander change your face? ›

Palate expanders increase the size of the palate (roof of the mouth) which then widens the jaw and allows the top teeth to sit outside of the lower teeth. Childhood is the ideal time for widening the upper arch of the teeth because the jaw, teeth, and mouths are still growing and developing.

How long does expander removal take? ›

How long is removing expanders and replacing with implants? Removing expanders and replacing with permanent implants usually takes about 2 hours.

What candy can you eat with a palate expander? ›

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.

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 can I tell if my palate is narrow? ›

If your smile appears tapered, and your molars are hidden when you smile, you may have a narrow palate. Some patients do not mind this shape in their mouths, but others may worry about the appearance or function of their smiles if they are too narrow.

What happens if you don't get an expander? ›

If left untreated, a crossbite may result in the lower jaw growing asymmetrically.

Can you eat normally with palatal 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.

What does a palate expander feel like? ›

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.

Should my tongue fit in my palate? ›

Actually, your tongue should be resting entirely on the palate. Not just the tip of the tongue, but the middle and posterior sections should be resting up. Your lips should be together, and your breathing should be through the nose 95-100% of the time.

What does a healthy soft palate look like? ›

Normally, this area is slightly less vascular than the oropharynx and is usually reddish pink in color (Figure 25). Observe the area as the patient says “ah.” The tissue should appear loose, mobile and symmetrical during function. The tissue will have a homogenous, spongy consistency on palpation.

What is the average mouth palate size? ›

The average width of the hard palate in male is 23.86mm and in females it is 23.52mm.

Why can't I eat with my expander? ›

As you may already know, our patients wearing bonds, braces, headgear, springs, new retainers, expander or the Herbst appliance may experience "tender teeth" for a few days. The movement caused by a new archwire or a bend in a retainer or neckgear can make certain teeth sore when biting into some foods.

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.

How do you clean under palate 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!

How much does it cost to get palate expanders? ›

Palatal expanders typically cost between $2,900 and $3,300. Of course, the cost depends on your orthodontist, and whether or not you are covered by insurance.

How long does palate expander procedure take? ›

Typically, the palate expansion process itself takes only 21 to 42 days to be completed. Several factors affect how long the palate expansion process will actually take, including how much the upper jaw needs to widen and how consistently your child turns their key as required.


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