What to Expect With Your Child's Orthodontic Expander

Nov 11, 2022
 What to Expect With Your Child's Orthodontic Expander
For some patients, the process of getting braces is initiated by a tooth extraction or getting a cavity filled. Children with narrow jaws may be fitted with an orthodontic expander. Read on.

At any given time in the United States, an estimated 4 million children and adults wear braces. For some of them, the treatment process may begin with resolving existing dental issues like filling a cavity, gum disease treatment, or even a tooth extraction. After all, it’s best to have healthy, strong teeth before getting braces.

But what do you do if a narrow jaw stands in the way of your child getting optimal orthodontic results and the smile they’ve always wanted? An orthodontic expander can help, says Dr. Jean Seibold McGill at McGill Orthodontics in Easton and Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. 

In this blog, Dr. McGill unpacks the ins and outs of this custom orthodontic appliance so you can better understand how it may fit into your treatment plan.

Orthodontic expander explained

Let’s start by describing what an orthodontic expander is and why your orthodontist may recommend it as part of your child’s treatment. An orthodontic expander, sometimes referred to as a palatal expander, is a custom-made appliance that creates space or, more specifically, widens your child’s upper jaw in preparation for getting braces.

Although technically an orthodontic expander can be used on an older patient, generally an orthodontist installs an expander on children and teens since their jaws and mouth haven’t finished growing yet. This appliance looks like two pieces of metal framing joined together with a screw in the middle.

The way an expander works is that your orthodontist first takes an impression of your child’s mouth and teeth. Your provider sends this data to a dental laboratory, which fabricates the appliance. When it returns from the lab, your orthodontist installs your child’s expander by anchoring the two metal components to several of their top back teeth. 

The expander is activated using a special key that fits the screw. Dr. McGill shows you how to turn the screw. The movement on the screw provides gentle pressure on the expander, which over time triggers the bones of your child’s palate to move apart, thereby widening their upper jaw.

A versatile appliance that enhances orthodontic treatment

An orthodontic expander is particularly helpful in enhancing orthodontic outcomes for a number of common bite and alignment issues such as crowded teeth and crossbites.

Crowded teeth

Crowded teeth is the most common reason for getting braces. In this case, an orthodontic expander provides two very attractive benefits — it effectively makes room for permanent teeth while at the same time generally eliminates the need for extractions to create proper bite and optimal alignment. 

The fact that an expander lowers your child’s risk of developing impacted permanent teeth is just a bonus.


With a crossbite, your upper teeth fit inside your lower teeth. A crossbite causes issues with your smile and your bite. If left untreated, crossbites can do a number on tooth enamel by causing excessive wear as well as result in jaw pain or temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD). 

Treatment plays out in 9-12 months

When you picture an orthodontic expander at work, it’s natural to be a little tentative about the whole process. Dr. McGill takes great care in explaining and demonstrating how to turn the screw as well as how your child’s entire treatment plan plays out. 

The good news is after a brief adjustment period to get used to eating and speaking with the expander in place, most patients experience minimal discomfort.

For the most part, the expander activation period is only 1-2 months. Generally, Dr. McGill leaves the expander in place for about 9-12 months to allow your child’s bone to grow into the newly created space, increasing the chances for permanent long-term change and optimal orthodontic enhancement.

If your child is beginning their journey to a new smile and you want to learn more about orthodontic expanders, contact McGill Orthodontics today. Call our office most convenient to you or request your appointment online.