What are orthodontic expanders?

fixing cross bite with braces orthodontics

Orthodontic Expanders: What They Are, How They Work, and Why You Might Need One

expander to fix cross bite14 January 2024 | Dr. Eric Meyer

What are orthodontic expanders?

Orthodontic expanders are custom-made devices that are used to widen the dental arch and at certain ages widen the jaw. They may be recommended for children and teens who have a narrow palate, a crossbite, crowded teeth, or impacted teeth. Adults may also benefit from expanders, although the process is different due to the stage of development.

How do orthodontic expanders work?

Orthodontic expanders are typically fixed to the first molars and work by applying gentle pressure to the tongue-side of the teeth. The widening process can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the amount of expansion needed. After the desired width is achieved, the expander is left in place for several more months to allow for the new bone to stabilize.

What is the purpose of orthodontic expanders?

Orthodontic expanders have several benefits for the oral health and appearance of the patients:

  1. To correct a crossbite, which is when the upper teeth fit inside the lower teeth instead of outside. A crossbite can cause problems with chewing, speaking, and jaw development.
  1. To prevent or treat crowded teeth, which are when the teeth do not have enough room to fit  properly in the jaw. Crowded teeth can lead to tooth decay, gum disease, and difficulty with cleaning and flossing.
  1. To prevent or treat impacted teeth, which occurs when the teeth are blocked from coming in by other teeth—usually due to a lack of space.
  1. To improve the facial profile and aesthetics, by creating a broader smile. In children and teens a palatal expander widens both the teeth and the upper jaw resulting in a wider smile.  Adults may have the same effect with other types of expansion.
  1. To improve the nasal breathing and airway, by opening up the nasal passages and reducing the risk of snoring, sleep apnea, and other respiratory problems. This, of course, depends on the amount of expansion achieved. It is not uncommon for adults with a cross bite to undergo surgical expansion and potential jaw surgery to correct sleep apnea.
fixing cross bite with braces orthodontics
Before (Posterior Crossbite)
fixing cross bite with braces orthodontics
After (Posterior Crossbite)
What are some common misconceptions about orthodontic expanders?

There are some misunderstandings about orthodontic expanders that may cause some people to hesitate or avoid them:

Myth: Orthodontic expanders are painful and uncomfortable.

Fact: Orthodontic expanders may cause some discomfort and pressure at first, but almost all of our patients get used to them quickly and do not experience significant pain. The discomfort can be relieved by taking over-the-counter painkillers, applying ice packs, and eating soft foods.

Myth: Orthodontic expanders are only for children and teens.

Fact: Orthodontic expanders are most effective and easier to use in children and teens, because their jaws are still growing and flexible. However, adults can also benefit from orthodontic expanders, although they may need more invasive procedures, such as surgically-assisted or implant-supported expanders, to achieve the same results.

Myth: Orthodontic expanders are only for cosmetic purposes.

Fact: Orthodontic expanders are not just for improving the appearance of the smile, but also for improving the function and health of the teeth, jaws, and airway. They can prevent or treat many dental and orthodontic problems that can affect the quality of life and well-being of the patients.

In summary, expanders are valuable tools that can help many patients achieve a healthier and more beautiful smile. They can widen the dental arch and jaw to create more space for the teeth, as well as improve the bite, the facial profile, and the breathing. Orthodontic expanders are safe, effective, and comfortable to use, and they can prevent or reduce the need for more complex and costly treatments in the future. If you think you or your child may benefit from orthodontic expanders, contact us and schedule a consultation. We will evaluate your condition and recommend the best treatment option for you.

Stay warm out there!

-Dr. E