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

The Jorgensen Orthodontics Blog

My Orthodontic Expander Made a Huge Gap Between My Teeth

Posted by Dr. Jorgensen on January 25th, 2013

Over the past couple of decades there has been a shift in orthodontics from extracting teeth to expanding the arches when there is crowding present. Expanders work great, but there are some side effects that catch parents by surprise. One of them is the appearance and disappearance of a gap between the front teeth.

The palate or roof of the mouth is made up of two bones joined together down the center by a junction called a suture. When a patient is young, this suture is made up of stretchable cartilage that is the area where growth takes place (a “growth plate”). After skeletal maturation somewhere between 14 and 17 years of age, this suture fuses and the palate becomes a single solid structure. Expanders take advantage of the presence of the growth plate if they are used before it is fused. One sign that the expander has actually moved the two halves of the palate apart is the appearance of a space between the front teeth. The central incisors are located on different sides of the growth plate and they spread apart as the palate is expanded. The result is a visible gap between the teeth. This gap is normal and desirable.

After the expander has provided the desired amount of expansion, the orthodontist will typically leave it in place for several months holding the two halves of the palate apart while new bone develops between them. Upon removal of the expander, there is always some relapse or loss of arch width. Most orthodontists over-correct by a few millimeters in anticipation of this change.

During this stabilization period, the gap created during expansion tends to close on its own. This happens slowly over time, but it shocks many parents the first time they notice it is smaller or gone altogether. Understandably, many parents call our office worried that the expander has slipped and that the benefits achieved during the activation phase have been lost.

During palatal expansion there are two forces on the teeth. The force created by the expander pushes the palate apart and a gap appears between the teeth. At the same time there is an opposite force acting on the teeth produced by the gum tissues. Just like other soft tissues in the body, the gums are elastic. As the expander pushes outward, the gum tissue starts pulling the teeth back together. You can tell this is happening by comparing the size of the gap between the teeth with the amount of expansion visible on the expander. Rarely will the size of the gap between the teeth ever get as large as the distance between the two sides of the expander because the teeth start moving back together even before expansion is complete. Another sign that the front teeth are being pulled back together is that they get sore and feel a little loose during expansion for no obvious reason (just like when braces are moving them). Now you know that they are being pulled back together by the elastic fibers in your gum tissue. In fact, it is not uncommon for the gap between the two front teeth to be completely closed by the time the expander is removed.

Knowing ahead of time that an expander will create a gap between the front teeth and that it will go away on its own is reassuring when it happens. Understanding what is normal will save you some worry and an unnecessary phone call to your orthodontist. If what you see in your mouth or in the mouth of your child does not seem to follow the pattern described however, give your orthodontic office a call and let them know. It is better to be safe than sorry!

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 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 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. Because he has over 25,000 readers each month, it is impossible for him respond to all questions. 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.

272 comments so far in response to “My Orthodontic Expander Made a Huge Gap Between My Teeth”

  1. Ajsia Dearborn says:

    I’m getting my expander but only having it on for two weeks. How big will my gap be?

    • Everyone’s response to treatment is different, so no one can predict. I am worried about the two-week time frame however. Two weeks won’t do you any good at all. It is too short a time for permanent change to occur.

  2. Mae says:

    Hello,
    Would you use an expander on a 16 year old? Thanks-

    • I would use an expander, but I would monitor the progress very carefully to make sure that the palate is spreading and that the teeth are not just being tipped out of the bone.

  3. Miranda Bazinet says:

    Hello, I am an adult who recently had surgery on my top jaw to expand the palate. Sunday is going to be my last day of expansion when the gap in my teeth reaches 10mm wide. I’m a little worried because I am in a wedding in exactly a month and would prefer to not have a huge gap. Is this enough time for it to drastically close?

    • Sorry Miranda. That gap won’t be closed buy then. See if your orthodontist can place a temporary plastic tooth in the gap for your wedding and pictures. Congratulations!

  4. Sapphire says:

    Does the gap ever stay even after the palatal expander is removed?

  5. clyde says:

    HI im 19 and my dentist recently gave me my expander for my upper jaw. She advised to wear this expander for 3 months and turn it everyday, so thats 90 turns. Now im really worried about how big the gap is going to make on my teeth.

    • If you are 19, there’s no way you’re going to be able to make 90 turns on a removable retainer. I think you need to discuss these instructions with your orthodontist again

  6. Isabelle says:

    I am 14 and have had my jaw expander on for 3 weeks and has made a huge difference and a big gap. I am having it on for 4 – 5 weeks and go for a check up in 2 days, if it has made a big difference would they take it out early?

    • Probably not. After the expansion is complete, there is a period of “holding” the palate in the new position so that the new bone can form. After you stop doing the turns however your gap will start to go away on its own. 🙂

  7. Jennifer says:

    Hello,

    My daughter has had her palatal expander for three weeks. She has been experiencing dizziness since about a day or two after it was inserted. She is normally extremely active, she’s a dancer and usually does cartwheels, walkovers etc. all day long. She has never experienced dizziness before. We have been to her primary care Dr who sent her for an EKG, allergist who took blood for more testing to see if she has developed additional allergies and recommended we see an ENT. It just occurred to me this morning that the dizziness coincided with the palatal expander. Is it possible that it is causing the dizziness? Have you had any experience with patients experiencing this? I would appreciate your opinion very much, we have lost the last three weeks of summer due to this and she is supposed to start school in three days.

    Thanks!

    • To be honest, I have never had a patient experience this in 25 years of using expanders. I would continue looking for other answers. If you can’t determine another cause, ask that the expander be removed and see if things improve.

Leave a Comment

Back to Top

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