Dr. Greg Jorgensen
(505) 891-9440
1401 Barbara Loop SE
Rio Rancho, NM 87124

The Jorgensen Orthodontics Blog

What to Expect With Your Child’s Orthodontic Expander

Posted by Dr. Jorgensen on August 22nd, 2011

ExpanderOne of the most common orthodontic appliances used in young children is the palatal expander. These appliances look intimidating to patients and the thought of having to “do the turns” every day scares a lot of parents. What can you expect while your child has an expander in their mouth?

Arch expansion is one of the most common ways to eliminate crowding and crossbites in growing patients. Successful expansion requires that the growth plate in the roof of the mouth (the midpalatal suture) is not fused or calcified. This fusion usually occurs between 14 and 16 years of age.

An expander is attached to the upper arch by bands placed around the teeth or plastic bonded over the teeth. Although there are removable expanders, fixed ones have an important advantage in that they cannot be taken out, lost, or forgotten.

While there may be some initial discomfort when an expander is placed just because there has never been anything like that attached to the teeth before, for the most part upper arch expansion is relatively painless. Patients report that they feel pressure on the teeth, in the roof of the mouth, behind the nose, and even between the eyes as their expander is activated. This pressure fades within minutes.

Besides pressure, you can also expect your child to speak differently for the first few days. Additionally, you may hear them slurping as their mouth creates extra saliva after expander cementation. One of the most visible signs that the suture is opening (the desired effect) is the appearance of a space between the upper central incisors. The space is created as the expander pushes the two halves of the palate in opposite directions. Once you have stopped activating the expander, it is normal for the space to close spontaneously. This occurs as the elastic fibers in the surrounding gum tissues pull the teeth to their original positions. The underlying bone, however, remains expanded. It is also normal for the front teeth to feel a little loose and get sore as they move back together.

To make the first couple of days more bearable for your child as they adapt to their new expander, you may want to find some fun foods for them to eat that don’t require a lot of chewing. Examples include yogurt, pudding, mashed potatoes, ice cream, soup, etc. A day or two after their delivery appointment, the expander will feel natural in their mouth and normal eating will resume. While expanders are more forgiving of hard and sticky foods than are braces, it is recommended that patient avoid jelly like candies that would get stuck in the expansion screw.

Because there is always some relapse (movement back towards the original size), your orthodontist may choose to over-expand your child’s palate. He will decide how much expansion is necessary as part of the initial diagnosis and treatment plan. After your orthodontist indicates that you’ve reached your target, he will instruct you on how long the retainer should stay in place to stabilize the results. This may range from two months to the entire length of treatment.

NOTE: The author, Dr. Greg Jorgensen, is a board-certified orthodontist who is in the private practice of orthodontics in Rio Rancho, New Mexico (a suburb on the Westside of Albuquerque). He was trained at BYU, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Iowa in the United States. Dr. Jorgensen’s 25 years of specialty practice and nearly 10,000 finished cases qualify him an expert in two-phase treatment, extraction and non-extraction therapy, functional orthodontics, clear aligners (Invisalign), and multiple bracket systems (including conventional braces, Damon and other self-ligating brackets, Suresmile, and lingual braces). This blog is for informational purposes only and is designed to help consumers understand currently accepted orthodontic concepts. It is not a venue for debating alternative treatment theories. Dr. Jorgensen is licensed to diagnose and treat patients only in the state of New Mexico. He cannot diagnose cases described in comments nor can he select treatment plans for readers. Please understand that because he has tens of thousands of readers each month, IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR HIM TO RESPOND TO EVERY QUESTION. Please read all of the comments associated with each article as most of the questions he receives each week have been asked and answered previously. The opinions expressed here are protected by copyright laws and can only be used with written permission from the author.

1,450 comments so far in response to “What to Expect With Your Child’s Orthodontic Expander”

  1. Jeri says:

    I am 15 and have had an expander in for about 3 months now, and just recently I got braces put on my top row of teeth as well. I havednoticed that my jaw, specifically on my left side, keeps locking up preventing me from opening my mouth too wide when Talk and chew, Which causes both pain and discomfort. Will this go away, is it normal, and how can I help it? Thanks

    • Jaw locking is never normal, but it can happen. What it means is that you are getting a muscle spasm that may or may not be related to the treatment you are receiving. I would discuss this with your orthodontist at your next visit. Good luck!

  2. Razu Ahmed. says:

    sir , I am from asouth asian deloping country , here, such a need of more good orthodontist for 180 million people,not only that but i have a great interest about orthodoctics under a good mentor ,so, i want your cordial kindness. regads, dr. razu ahmed, BDS, PGT,

    • Hello doctor. Thank you for reaching out. With my responsibilities as a husband, father, orthodontist for my own patients, volunteer with the American Association of Orthodontists, the blog, and my church responsibilities, I barely have time to sleep as it is. I hope you find the information in my blog useful, but I am unable to offer any additional help as a personal mentor. I wish you well in your desire to help your fellow countrymen.

  3. Mike Delohery says:

    My grandsons partial bottom expander broke maybe 1/4 of a inch from the metal screw is this normal? Do these things break that easy? He is 7! Can not imagine he has the strength to break this device. Not all metal more plastic with a metal screw out expand in the middle… help?

  4. Jacob says:

    The top left molars hurt when to bite, this only started yesterday on the 5th day. I do one turn a day. Is this normal?

    • I cannot give individual patient care recommendations. Please contact and see the orthodontist who placed your expander as it may actually may be loose or have an issue only detectable in person.

  5. shay says:


    i have had an expander for a while now but a few days ago my nose started to hurt when i eat. is that normal?

Leave a Comment

Back to Top

Your account login
Your rewards
Schedule an appointment with our talented orthodontist online