Dr. Greg Jorgensen
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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.

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

  1. A parent says:

    I have a 2 questions. 1. I know from you that the gap will appear, then may disappear again. How can I know that this afterward disappearance of the gap is due to the gum tissues pulling the teeth back OR it is the sign that the two halves of the palate closing again (expanding has been lost!!). 2. Is there any way to know if the suture is fused yet (guessing through age or look at x-ray?). Or we just apply expander then wait to see if the jaw is widened or the teeth are tipped? Knowing for sure in advance may save me lot of worry.

    • Age is a starting point (I’m usually comfortable under the age of 15), but the only way to know for sure is to proceed and watch carefully. X-rays are not effective in determining status of the suture.

  2. Mike says:

    Hello Doctor, i got the Quad helix few months back with extractions and noticed gaps between the front teeth and canine in both sides of the maxilla but one side (left) seems to be widening faster than the right. Shoulld i be worried that the expander is not aligned correctly or no? Thanks

  3. Iman says:

    I’m 12 and I hate my gap, my mom always tells me that it will go away when I get my wisdom teeth because it will push all my teeth together. Is that true?

  4. karmin says:

    I am 27 years on and I have bottom braces and expander at the top. I now have a gap and im 2 months in. I want the expanders off as soon as possible although my ortho had requested to them on for four months. Do you think its possible to take them off in a month? I feel like thats how far I can go because I hate the expander…

    • There is a reason why you must keep the expander in the full time. Expanders move the two halves of your palate apart. It takes two to three months after your last turn for this change to be stable. Don’t short change yourself by demanding that your orthodontist take your expander out early

  5. John Black says:

    After I completed all turns (1 turn per day for 38 days) of Hyrax for an 11 year old boy, I did NOT see any gap between two front teeth. There was no gap during turns or after turns. Does this mean two halves of the palate did not separated? Is it possible that suture has fused for 11 year old boy?

  6. Kylie says:

    Hi Doctor, I have an expander and it feels loose and there is a pain in my gum, can I wiggle it out because I have an expander or will the expander loosen ?

  7. Kalyn says:

    My orthodontist is trying to allign my back teeth because my bottom molers are further back than my front molers. He gave my the choice to either get two teeth pulled or have (they called them) spacers put in. I (stupidly) chose spacers and I hate them because I’ve had the guides in for three weeks and they aren’t doing anything because they said I need further expansion before we could attach the arms. So I now have the big guides, an expander, and braces in my mouth. A gap started to form between my front teeth (for the second time because I had an expander before I got braces) and I’m miserable. My ortho said I would have to have my spacers in for at least a year (and that’s once I actually get the arms on.)
    So I have two questions
    1) Would I be able to change my mind and get two teeth pulled without completely ticking my orthodontist off?
    2) Would pulling the teeth and readjusting them be quicker?
    3) I feel like if I do get the teeth pulled, I’d still have a gap… Is this true? If so, in how long would it go away?
    I’m sorry if this is very confusing. All help appreciated

    • 1. You can change your mind any time you want. It is your mouth. If you have started with one method of treatment, changing in the middle may add more time in braces. 2. Everyone’s mouth is different. Sometimes pulling teeth adds time. Other times it shortens treatment. This is a question for your orthodontist that knows your mouth. 3. The space created by pulling back teeth to correct an overbite is closed as the front teeth are moved backwards. The space you’re getting between your front teeth is a different story. Both spaces should be closed before your braces come off.

  8. Jess says:

    How long does it take for the gap to close after the expander is taken out?

    • It depends upon the size of the space, the age of the patient, and whether or not braces are on the teeth. Only your orthodontist can answer this question for you specifically.

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