About 15% of the US population has orthodontic issues severe enough to affect functionality. If your bite or jaws aren’t in proper alignment, your orthodontist might recommend a jaw expander.

What is a jaw expander, exactly, and what are the signs you need treatment with an expander? Read on to find out.

Reviewing this guide will help you determine if it’s time to visit your orthodontist to begin treatment.  

What Is a Jaw Expander?

Palate or jaw expanders are oral devices. They can widen your upper jaw if it’s too narrow. 

Your orthodontist might recommend a jaw expander if you have overcrowded teeth or a crossbite. They’ll position the device on the roof of your upper jaw. Over time, the expander will move the halves of your jawbone apart.

While treatment is common for children (while their jaws are still in development), teens and adults are candidates for treatment with expanders, too. 

There are different types of jaw or palate expanders available, including:

  • Rapid palate expanders
  • Removable palate expanders
  • Surgically assisted rapid palate expanders (SARPEs)

Your orthodontist will determine which type best suits your specific needs.

A removable palate expander looks like a retainer. They’re made from chrome instead of acrylic. Removable expanders are ideal if you need to widen your jaw a little.

Rapid palate expanders are positioned on the roof of your mouth. They’re attached to the back upper teeth to ensure stability.

Each day, you’ll turn a screw in the middle of the expander to increase the tension. Over time, the expander will move your palatal bones apart to widen your jaw.

SARPEs are used for moderate to severe cases. They’re also ideal for older patients with fully developed facial bones.

You’ll need to visit an oral surgeon to have a SARPE placed into your mid-palatal suture. These expanders rely on your upper back teeth for support and stability. As with rapid palate expanders, you’ll need to activate it daily to increase tension.

Implant-supported palate expanders are ideal for teens and adults. These expanders apply force to mini dental implants (instead of your teeth) to apply pressure to the upper jaw.

When Is a Jaw Expander Necessary?

You might need an expander if you have a narrow palate that’s causing bite or crowding issues. An orthodontist might recommend that your child begin treatment if they have a crossbite, impacted teeth, or severe crowding. These orthodontic issues can get worse as your child gets older.

If your child’s teeth appear crowded, widening their jaw while they’re young could minimize their need for braces when they’re older. Otherwise, crowding can affect how you or your child brushes and flosses.

Failing to thoroughly brush and floss can increase plaque formation, leading to tooth decay or gum disease.

You might need a palate expander if you have a crossbite. A crossbite develops when the upper teeth misalign and sit inside the lower teeth. This can occur when the upper jaw is too narrow.

An expander can widen the jaw to ensure the top and bottom teeth stack correctly.

Sometimes, adult teeth can grow into place because the area is blocked by other teeth. Widening the upper jaw can create space for an impacted tooth. Increasing the available space will help the tooth erupt on its own in the proper spot.

Schedule a consultation appointment at your orthodontist’s office if you have:

  • Difficulty chewing
  • A misaligned bite (under-, cross-, open, or overbite)
  • Crooked teeth
  • Crowded teeth
  • Overlapping teeth
  • Impacted teeth

They’ll determine if you’re an ideal candidate for treatment with an orthodontic expander. 

The Benefits

Choosing treatment with an upper jaw expander can reduce the need for tooth removal in the future. It also creates room for emerging adult teeth.

Treatment will straighten your teeth and align your jaws. You’ll have an easier time brushing and flossing as a result. You could avoid more extensive orthodontic treatment in the future.

Straightening your teeth can improve your smile, which could strengthen your self-esteem. It can also make chewing, eating, and breathing easier if you have extensive alignment issues. 

How It Works

The roof of your mouth (your palate) is divided into two halves, joined by a suture in the middle. An extender will apply a steady yet gentle force to each side. Over time, it will push the two sides apart to widen your jaw. 

As the palate widens, new bone will regenerate to fill in the space. 

Treatment could take between three to nine months. The duration of each patient’s treatment can vary based on the severity of the condition, age, and compliance. 

For example, adults who already have fully developed bones might need treatment for months, a year, or longer. An eight-year-old might only need treatment for a month or two since their palate is still developing.

Your orthodontist can give you a more accurate treatment duration. 

After the jaw expander widens the area, your orthodontist might leave the device in for an extra four to six months. This period will give the jawbone time to fuse together.

Consider Treatment With a Jaw Expander Today

If these orthodontic issues sound familiar, consider treatment with a jaw expander. Visit your local orthodontist to determine if you’re an ideal candidate for treatment.

Beginning treatment with a palate expander right away can help you avoid oral health issues in the future.

Want to discuss treatment with a member of our team? We’re here for you.

Find your office today to get started.