What are orthodontic expanders?

Orthodontic expanders are a commonly used tool in dentistry that helps correct and properly align the teeth of younger patients. Also known as palatal expanders, this orthodontic tool is cleverly simple and straightforward to use. It is one of a few preventative orthodontic tools available at Cordoba Orthodontics as a way to prevent future dental problems that would require braces or surgeries to correct. Orthodontic expanders are incredibly useful and require very little effort to work in the right way.

How do orthodontic expanders work?

Orthodontic expanders are designed in two parts. These two parts each attach to some of the top teeth near the back of a patient’s mouth and are attached in the middle with an adjustable screw that slowly pushes apart the upper palatal bones. The screw is turned slightly each day to induce tension, which over time results in a wider upper palate. Every orthodontic expander at Cordoba Orthodontics is custom-made for each patient to ensure perfect fit and function.

At a certain point, the intended amount of palatal expansion is reached. When this happens, the orthodontic expander is left alone for a few months to allow the patient’s jaw to grow new bone that will secure the changes to the upper palate. After the palate has adjusted adequately to its new shape, the orthodontic expander can be safely removed from the mouth and the patient’s upper palate will remain the same shape thereafter.

Who can get orthodontic expanders?

At Cordoba Orthodontics, most of the patients who receive orthodontic expanders are younger than age 12. The reason for this has to do with the way that orthodontic expanders are intended to work. In children who haven’t hit puberty, the upper palate is still separated down the middle into two separate parts, which fuse together permanently in the teenage years and adulthood. When we recognize that a young patient is exhibiting particular dental issues, or we foresee a distinct possibility that the patient will have problems in the future, we recommend orthodontic expanders to alleviate and avoid the problem. Some of the issues that orthodontic expanders can treat include:

Impacted teeth

A number of our younger patients struggle with impacted teeth as their adult teeth start to grow in. Occasionally, a tooth will be blocked and will not be able to come in properly due to the shape of the upper palate. When a tooth struggles to erupt, we recommend orthodontic expanders to create enough room in the jaw for the new tooth to come in comfortably.


Some patients with a smaller upper palate will have what’s called a crossbite, which is where their upper teeth come to rest behind their lower teeth. This generally happens because the upper palate is too narrow or isn’t large enough to produce the correct bite. Of course, this is a perfect situation to use an orthodontic expander. Many patients who have a crossbite have lifelong relief when they use an expander to correct the problem.


Plenty of parents will recognize that the crowding of teeth is a very real and uncomfortable problem for their children. Unfortunately, crowding is an all too common problem. The good news is that orthodontic expanders can widen the upper palate in a manner that allows a young person’s adult teeth to grow in without any crowding or struggle! Because crowding is also caused by having a smaller upper palate, an orthodontic expander comes highly recommended to fix this problem.

What can I expect from orthodontic expanders?

Orthodontic expanders are an example of a brilliantly simple way to treat common and frustrating dental problems. At Cordoba Orthodontics, we recommend orthodontic expanders most often for children whose parents are looking for straightforward, noninvasive methods to repair present dental problems and prevent later issues as well.  But, while orthodontic expanders are significantly less uncomfortable and obtrusive than braces or dental surgery, there are still some things to be aware of if you’re thinking of getting orthodontic expanders for your children. Here are a few of the things you can expect from getting orthodontic expanders:

  • Variable adjustment period – Of course, just like any dental apparatus, orthodontic expanders require a bit of an adjustment period for any patient. Children who get orthodontic expanders will have to get used to the way that it feels to have the expanders in the mouth, especially while speaking and eating. Encouraging your child to eat slowly and speak slowly for the first week or two after getting expanders can help them adjust more quickly and easily.
  • Mild pain/discomfort after turning the screw – After each adjustment to the orthodontic expanders, the pressure that is put on either side of the upper palate may cause some discomfort in the mouth and jaws. Although there is some pain present after an adjustment, the discomfort felt from having orthodontic expanders is dramatically less than the discomfort of having braces later in life. For that reason, we often recommend orthodontic expanders whenever possible in place of braces, especially in patients who are young enough to have the expanders.
  • Gap between the front teeth – If a gap appears between the patient’s two front teeth when they are using the orthodontic expander, this is actually a sign that the treatment is working the way it’s supposed to work. Later, their adult front teeth will come in straight and beautiful! While this is an undesirable side effect of orthodontic expanders, it does resolve rapidly once the child’s adult teeth grow in.
  • Variable time wearing the expanders – Depending on the patient, we will prescribe a wear-time of 3-6 months for the orthodontic expanders. The expanders must be worn 24/7 during this period of time, and the screw to expand the apparatus must be turned every day (or according to your dentist’s instructions). The wear-time for each patient depends on many factors, including the amount of separation required in the upper palate and the age of the patient.

Orthodontic expanders are a solid, reliable choice for young patients who are in need of dental intervention to prevent further problems in the future. If you think that orthodontic expanders might be right for your child, contact Cordoba Orthodontics today to schedule a consultation with Dr. John Cordoba.

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