Palate expanders have been used for decades and are a common first step in orthodontic treatment. A palate expander is an oral appliance that is used to widen a narrow maxillary arch. They are most commonly used in pre-adolescent children, but can be used in teens or adults as well.

There are several types of palate expanders available, but all work in a similar way. They all require effort on your part, as you’ll be making adjustments to your palate expander at home.

How do palate expanders work?

Periodic dental exam

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A palate expander works by placing pressure on both sides of the upper jaw to create a wider palate. This allows more room for the teeth to erupt and/or creates space for movement in the case of orthodontic treatment. They are common for individuals who have narrow palates.

Palate expanders are non-invasive and non-surgical.

Palatal expanders types

There are three types of palatal expanders: Hyrax rapid, Quad helix, and Haas.

Hyrax rapid

The Hyrax appliance, also called a rapid palatal expander, is attached to the maxillary molars by cementing metal bands to the molars. There is a small screw in the middle that is turned periodically to slowly widen the palate.

Quad helix

A quad helix expander is also attached to the maxillary molars by bands that are cemented around the molars. The appliance has 2-4 active helix springs that widen the palate. This appliance can be used to expand the palate and to correct a posterior crossbite.

HAAS expander

Like the others, the HAAS expander works to widen the palate by putting pressure on the maxillary molars. It is made of an acrylic base that is shaped to fit the roof of your mouth. A bone screw is placed in the middle of the acrylic and is then loosened or tightened to apply pressure. The expander is held in place by wires that are fixed to the teeth.

How to adjust the palate expander?

Your dentist or orthodontist will instruct you on how to use the key that comes with your palate expander. While most individuals will adjust their expander daily, be sure to follow the specific instructions given by your provider. Do not adjust the appliance more than once a day.

To adjust your appliance, insert the key into the hold that is in the middle front part of your expander. Push the key towards the back of your mouth - gently! You’ll feel some resistance and you will notice that the next hole rotates into position for the next adjustment. Remove the key by pushing it towards your throat and out of the keyhole.

Palate expander side effects

When your expander is first placed, you may notice an increase in saliva production. This should go away quickly as you get used to the expander. Other than that, you should have absolutely no side effects.

FAQ

How much does a palate expander cost?

The cost of a palate expander will vary from one dental practice to another. If you have dental insurance, it is also possible that your insurance will help pay for the expander. Generally speaking, expanders range in price from $500 - $3000.

How long does the palate expander stay in?

The length of time you’ll need to continue wearing your palate expander will depend on the severity of your case. Most of the time, treatment is around nine months.

Do palate expander hurt?

No, there should be no pain associated with a palate expander.

How to eat with a palate expander?

You should not eat chewy or sticky foods while your palate expander is in place. This includes foods such as gum, caramels, and taffy. You should also avoid hard foods like nuts and popcorn. If eating vegetables or fruit, it is best to cut them into bite-sized pieces.

How to clean an orthodontic expander?

You should clean your orthodontic expander in the morning and at night and also after eating. You may use the same toothbrush as you do to brush your teeth, as well as toothpaste. A water flosser is a great way to remove food particles and plaque that may accumulate around your expander.

Can you wear a palate expander as an adult?

While palate expanders are more commonly seen in children, adults can benefit from them as well.

Do palate expanders change face shape?

Since a palate expander widens the upper jaw, it can slightly change the shape of your face.

Are there alternatives to palate expander?

Braces are often used after a palate expander has had time to widen the palate. While braces can also treat a narrow arch, a palate expander may shorten the length of time it takes to correct the alignment of the teeth.

In some cases, orthognathic surgery may be required.

References

  1. Dental arch size and shape after maxillary expansion in bilateral complete cleft palate: A comparison of three expander designs - PubMed
  2. A clinical review of crossbite in an orthodontic population - PubMed
  3. Maxillary Expansion - NCBI