Why Are Expanders Used in Preparing for Braces?

If Dr. Paul and Dr. Andrew at Serrano Orthodontics have recommended an expander before starting braces treatment, you may be wondering what expanders are for and why they are needed. Expanders are an important orthodontic appliance that helps create more space in a child’s mouth before braces are put on. Let’s take a closer look at what expanders do and how they help ensure the best possible results from braces treatment.

What Is an Expander?

An expander, also known as a palatal expander, is an orthodontic appliance that gradually widens the upper jaw (maxilla) over time. It fits in the roof of the mouth and applies gentle outward pressure to widen the palate and create more space for the teeth.

There are three main types of expanders:

  • Bonded Palatal Expander: A bonded expander uses an acrylic attachment, which is permanently affixed with bonding material or dental cement throughout the entire treatment.
  • Rapid Palatal Expander (RPE): This type attaches to the upper back teeth with metal rings and has a screw in the middle that is turned a small amount each day to expand the palate. RPEs work quickly, widening the palate over a few months.
  • Removable Palatal Expander: As the name implies, this type can be taken in and out of the mouth. It works more gradually than an RPE, expanding the palate over 6-12 months. Removable expanders are typically worn all the time except for meals and brushing teeth.

According to the American Association of Orthodontists, children and young teens are candidates for palatal expanders. This is usually before age 16. After the mid-teens, expanding the palate becomes much more difficult once the bones have fully hardened and fused together.

Why Are Expanders Used in Preparing for Braces?

Why Are Expanders Needed Before Braces?

The main reason Dr. Paul and Dr. Andrew use expanders before putting braces on is to create more room for crowded or crooked teeth to be aligned properly. If the jaw is too narrow and there is not enough space for the teeth to fit, an expander can widen the palate first to allow braces to then straighten the teeth into proper alignment in the larger space.

Without first expanding the palate when needed, putting on braces right away could lead to problems like teeth being extracted to make space, poor alignment of the bite, and less stable long-term results. Widening the palate first sets the stage for braces to be as effective as possible.

Some of the common orthodontic and bite problems that may require an expander before braces include:

  • Crossbite: When the upper teeth bite inside the lower teeth
  • Crowding: When there is not enough room for the teeth to fit properly
  • Impacted Teeth: When teeth, often canines, get stuck and cannot erupt into the proper position

In these cases, an expander helps make the necessary room to allow braces to then guide the teeth into ideal alignment for a healthy, functional, and attractive smile. Expansion also helps achieve a broader smile that is usually considered more aesthetic.

What to Expect with an Expander

If our team at Serrano Orthodontics has recommended an expander for your child, the first step is to get the appliance custom-made and properly fitted. Dental impressions or a digital scan will be taken to create an expander that fits the unique shape of your child’s palate.

The expander is then cemented into place, or removable trays are made. Your orthodontist will give you detailed instructions on how to activate the expander each day, usually by turning a small screw with a special key. This gradually expands the appliance a small amount each time, slowly widening the upper jaw over a period of a few months.

It’s normal for children to feel some pressure or discomfort in the first few days after getting an expander and each time it is activated. Over-the-counter pain relievers, eating soft foods, and using dental wax on any irritated areas can help manage this. Speech and eating may also be slightly affected at first but return to normal quickly with practice.

Once the desired amount of expansion is achieved, the appliance is kept in place as a retainer for several months while new bone grows to stabilize the jaw at its new, wider size. The braces process can then begin to straighten the teeth now that there is enough room for proper alignment.


Why Are Expanders Used in Preparing for Braces?

Achieving a Healthy, Beautiful Smile

Expanders are a major part of the treatment process for many orthodontic patients, especially children and teens whose jaws are still developing. By gradually widening the palate, expanders create the space needed for braces to effectively straighten the teeth and align the bite. This helps achieve better function, stability, and esthetics in growing smiles.

If an expander has been recommended for your child, Dr. Paul and Dr. Andrew will guide you through each step of the process and ensure the best possible care and results. By working together, you can help your child achieve a healthy, beautiful smile they’ll feel confident sharing with the world. Contact our team at Serrano Orthodontics to schedule a consultation and learn more about expanders, braces, and our other treatment options. We look forward to helping you achieve your best smile!