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What is a palatal expander and how do they work?

Posted in Alberta, British Columbia, Children, General, Orthodontics, Phase 1 Treatment, Related Conditions, Tips & Advice, Treatment Process

Does your child have a narrow or high palate? Our BC and Alberta orthodontists may recommend an orthodontic palatal expander to help create more space in your child's mouth by widening their upper jaw. Learn more about these orthodontic devices and how they work in this post. 



At myORTHODONTIST, we recommend children come in to see us for an orthodontic assessment by age 7, as this is when orthodontic issues such as a narrow palate can begin to appear. Left untreated, this condition may later lead to serious oral and physical health issues including crowding in the mouth, impacted teeth and breathing problems.

During an assessment, our orthodontists can evaluate your child's jaw and facial development, and check for issues such as a narrow palate. In this post, we'll explain how these issues can be prevented with a palatal expander, and how we can treat orthodontic issues. 

Why would my orthodontist recommend a palatal expander?

We have two dental arches in our mouths that hold the upper and lower teeth. The arch-shaped design should accommodate all of a child's permanent teeth. Additionally, the upper and lower teeth meet under ideal circumstances to create a healthy bite (occlusion). 

However, the upper dental arch is sometimes too small to accommodate all of the permanent teeth. This can lead to impacted teeth, crowding, and the need for tooth extraction, which can result in further complications for your child's future oral health. 

An arch that's too narrow can cause your child to develop a crossbite, in which the upper teeth bite inside the lower ones. An abnormal bite can lead to more serious oral health issues such as wear and stress on teeth that can result in erosion,  and other complications. To prevent these issues from occurring in children with narrow palates, we may recommend a palatal expander for your child's mouth, to widen the upper jaw and create more space. 

With palatal expanders we can:

  • Treat or prevent long-term oral and overall physical health issues such as TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorder, speech problems, obesity, sleep apnea
  • Help your child eat, chew and breathe more easily
  • Change the appearance of your child's smile to be more aesthetically pleasing
  • Shorten the duration of orthodontic treatment time with braces or Invisalign during your child's teen years
  • Potentially avoid the need for more complex, invasive treatments such as jaw surgery or tooth extraction

What is a palatal expander?

A palatal expander is a custom-made orthodontic metal appliance that increases the size of the upper dental arch. They are often recommended for young children who are just starting orthodontic treatment as their bones are still developing. 

The space between the two bones of the upper palate contains cartilage, which is flexible when children are young but gradually fuses into place by the time they reach their early to mid-teens when the jaw finishes growing. 

How does a palatal expander work?

Palatal expanders are designed to widen the upper jaw, gradually creating more space in your child's mouth as the jaw develops and teeth emerge. Typically, the orthodontist will affix a palatal expander to your child's back teeth on either side of the upper arch.

The device can be constructed to be removable for younger patients undergoing Phase 1 treatment (many children who undergo early treatment for orthodontic issues will later wear braces or clear aligners to shift teeth into their proper positions). The expander can easily be turned with a simple key to gently expand the palate by 1/4 mm with each turn, which will help develop true palatal width to accommodate growth. 

Palatal Expanders & Orthodontic Treatment at myORTHODONTIST

Identifying and treating a narrow palate using palatal expansion can positively impact upper jaw development and reduce issues with crossbite, teeth crowding and more. When you and your child come to see us for an orthodontic assessment, we can examine your child's mouth, diagnose any orthodontic issues, and explain them to you in easy to understand terms. We will then develop a custom treatment plan based on your child's specific needs to correct those issues. 

Throughout treatment, X-rays and digital images will be taken of your child's mouth to document treatment progress, so you'll be able to tell the difference a palatal expander has made for your child based on before and after images. 

Is it time for your child's initial orthodontic assessment? Contact our BC and Alberta orthodontists to learn more or book an assessment with our orthodontic specialists.

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