When your child first gets braces, you may be surprised, or even alarmed, to hear your orthodontist mention the term “palatal expander.” To be honest, it does sound a bit menacing. But in reality, it’s just a fancy term for a very helpful tool.

The palette simply refers to the roof of the mouth, the area above the tongue. There are different formations of the palette, and other areas of the mouth, that might require the temporary use of a palatal expander.

Palatal expanders are an important intervention in orthodontic care. It’s important that they are utilized in pediatric and adolescent orthodontics because the palette structure is moveable during this time. After adulthood the success of a palatal expander becomes slim.

But while the term sounds overwhelming, a palatal expander is actually pretty fascinating! Here are some fast facts that you may not know about this widely used orthodontic treatment.

Palatal Expanders Can Fix a Variety of Issues

The palatal expander does exactly what the name implies, it expands the palette. But why would a palette need expanding? There are a few different conditions that can benefit from an expanded palette.

One problem that can be resolved is over-crowding. A palatal expander simply creates a little more space for the teeth to align in.

Patients suffering from a crossbite will find relief from a palatal expander as well. And from an aesthetics viewpoint, simply expanding the palette and creating more space can just make the smile look better.

Palatal Expanders DON’T Feel as Uncomfortable as They Look

It sounds uncomfortable, and it may even look uncomfortable. But patients actually get used to this piece of equipment very quickly. It may feel odd on the tongue for the first few days, and there can be a feeling of pressure involved as it begins working. But most patients report not noticing the palatal expander soon after it is installed.

Typically, patients adjust to this piece of equipment just as easily as adjusting to braces in general.

Palatal Expanders Can Improve Breathing Quality

You may not think of breathing problems when you think of going to an orthodontist for treatment. But the beauty of the palatal expander is in its versatility. The palatal expander can be used to treat breathing difficulties in patients.

By widening the upper palate, breathing is improved. This can especially help with nighttime breathing and problems with snoring. Who knew that creating a straighter smile could also help with a good night’s sleep?

Some Palatal Expanders Have a Magical Key

So how do palatal expanders actually expand? For some models, it’s a key. Your orthodontist will provide you with a small metal key and instruct you on how often to use it in the expander and how many turns each time. Then, like magic, the palatal expander does what it does best: expands!

There are a Few Different Kinds of Palatal Expanders

Bonded – There are different shapes and types of bonded expanders like the Quad Helix mentioned below. A bonded expander simply means it is fixed in the mouth, usually in conjunction with braces. A bonded expander can be removed while the braces remain in place continuing to do their job.

Quad Helix – The Quad Helix expander is a fixed expander, meaning it does not come out of the mouth. By design, it also expands with pressure on its own, so it does not require a key or modifications to do its job.

Removeable – A removable palatal expander is much like a retainer. It requires care and washing, and you’ll use the palatal expander key in order to make adjustments and create expansion.  These are considered a rapid expander.

Surgical – Rarely, a surgical choice can be made to implement the palatal expander. It works very similar to the other expanders, but is also known as a rapid expander because of how quickly it works. It’s generally not the first choice in treatment, but can be an option in the right circumstances.

Palatal Expanders Can be Used with Other Orthodontic Treatments

Palatal Expanders can, and will, be used with a number of different treatment plans and equipment. Palatal expanders can be used with traditional wire braces. But other models can also be used in conjunction with Invisalign, or more commonly used before an Invisalign treatment begins.

Rest assured that whichever type of braces is right for you, you’ll receive all the treatment you need for the best possible smile.

What are Some Retainer Frequently Asked Questions?

  • Can they be removed? Some palatal expanders aren’t part of a removeable structure. But expanders on a retainer are. Your orthodontist will decide which model and treatment is right for you.
  • Do they hurt? Time after time, patients give the same feedback: no. Yes, there is some discomfort, but just like braces your body will adjust. Over the counter medication might be recommended if pain persists, but you’ll likely get used to your expander sooner than you think.
  • How long do I have to wear it? Typically this type of treatment is used in the beginning and removed once the desired expansion is done. Treatment lengths vary but your doctor will explain the details of your personalized treatment plan and timeline.
  • What if I decide not to get one? It’s always best to follow the advice of your orthodontist. Not correcting some problems with a palatal expander can lead to more painful problems down the road. Not correcting an issue can lead to TMJ and pain later in life.


At our New Jersey orthodontist office, you’ll know right away if a palatal expander is going to be needed in your treatment plan. In your initial visit at Bordentown Braces, Dr. Newman will go over the details of your treatment extensively and explain the process every step of the way. You’ll know which type of expander as well as the expected length of treatment with the expander. We’re always happy to answer any additional questions you may have! Give us a call! Palatal expander or not, we’re ready to begin your straightening journey together!