What Is Palatal Expansion?

In the realm of orthodontics, palatal expansion is a common treatment approach often associated with various oral health benefits.

By widening the upper jaw, orthodontists can address various dental issues, including teeth overcrowding and misalignment.

This article aims to provide an in-depth understanding of palatal expansion, its importance, and how it works.

The Concept of Palatal Expansion

What is Palatal Expansion?

Palatal expansion, or orthodontic or palatal expansion, involves using a uniquely crafted oral device or other applications, termed a palate expander, to widen a narrow upper jaw.

The expander fits into the roof of your mouth and progressively separates the two halves of your upper jawbone.

While primarily used in children, it’s crucial to note that teenagers and even adults can benefit from this treatment.

Why is Palatal Expansion Necessary?

Orthodontists may suggest palatal expansion in various scenarios. These may include:

  • Teeth overcrowding
  • Overlapping teeth
  • Crooked teeth
  • Impacted teeth
  • Chewing difficulties
  • Misaligned bite (crossbite, open bite, overbite, underbite)

By widening your jaw, a palate expander creates more space for your teeth, improving the alignment of your upper and lower teeth.

Moreover, palatal expansion can also help individuals suffering from obstructive sleep apnea.

The Ideal Age for Palatal Expansion

In general, any individual, regardless of their age, can undergo palatal expansion. However, orthodontists often recommend this treatment for children ages 7 and 8.

Why at such a young age?

At this age, children’s jawbones are still developing and forming. Starting the treatment early can help decrease the chances of requiring invasive procedures later in life. Typically, achieving the desired results takes around two to three months.

Adults and teenagers, whose bones are already fully developed, may need up to a year for palatal expansion to produce the desired outcomes. However, it’s worth noting that every patient’s situation is unique, and a palate expander may not be necessary for everyone.

Exploring Various Types of Palate Expanders

There are several types of palate expanders, each catering to specific patient needs. Let’s delve into some of the most common ones.

Removable Palate Expander

Resembling a retainer, a removable palate expander is usually crafted from chrome instead of acrylic. It’s often recommended for individuals requiring a slight jaw widening.

Rapid Palate Expander

A rapid palate expander attaches to your back upper teeth for stability and fits into the roof of your mouth. It features a small screw in the middle, which is gradually turned using a special key. This action applies tension to your two palatal bones, leading to a wider jaw over time.

Rapid palate expanders can achieve a widening rate of 0.5 millimeters per day, usually taking between three and six months to produce the desired results.

Surgically Assisted Rapid Palate Expander (SARPE)

SARPE is often used for moderate to severe cases or for adults with fully developed facial bones. An oral surgeon positions this expander into your mid-palatal suture (where your palate’s left and right sides meet).

The function of SARPE is similar to a rapid palate expander; you’ll need to activate your expander daily until you achieve the desired width.

Implant-Supported Palate Expander

Primarily used in teenagers and adults, this type of expander applies force to four mini dental implants instead of your teeth. This enables your provider to apply pressure directly to your upper jaw.

The Process of Palatal Expansion

How Do Expanders Work?

Image of How Palatal Expanders Work

The custom-made expander fits over several top teeth in the back of the mouth. The appliance comprises two halves connected in the middle with a screw. You gently turn the screw daily using a special key to activate the device.

This action induces tension at the junction of the two palatal bones, gradually moving them apart. Once the desired expansion is achieved, the appliance is left in place for a few more months to allow new bone formation in the gap and stabilize the expansion.

Generally, expanders are worn for 3-6 months altogether.

Expectations During Palatal Expansion

After turning the key, patients may experience slight soreness or a pressure sensation for a few minutes.

Nevertheless, activating an expander usually causes less discomfort than braces tightening. Patients may also notice a shift in speaking and eating patterns as the tongue adjusts to the appliance’s presence.

A gap between the front teeth is normal and signals that the expander is working correctly.

The Benefits of Palatal Expansion

Correcting Crossbite

When a child’s upper jaw is too narrow to fit correctly with the lower jaw, the back top teeth will bite inside of the lower teeth instead of outside.

Expanding the upper jaw, known as a crossbite, can be corrected.

Alleviating Crowding

Even before all of a child’s permanent (adult) teeth come in, orthodontists can tell if there will not be enough room to accommodate them.

Widening the upper jaw can create the necessary space without the need for tooth extractions.

Addressing Impacted Teeth

Impacted teeth are those that are yet to come in (erupted) and are blocked by other teeth.

Expanding the upper jaw can enable such teeth to erupt into their proper position on their own.

Additional Benefits

Palatal expansion can also broaden the smile aesthetically, limit the number of teeth that need to be removed to create space and improve breathing.

Moreover, it can shorten overall orthodontic treatment time (the amount of time your child will need to wear braces).


In conclusion, palatal expansion is a beneficial orthodontic treatment approach that addresses various dental issues. Individuals can make informed decisions about their oral health by understanding the process, types of expanders, and the benefits they offer.

Always consult your healthcare provider to determine the most suitable treatment for your unique needs.

Remember that a healthy smile is not just aesthetically pleasing, but it also contributes to your overall well-being. So, take that first step towards achieving a perfect smile today!

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