Who Needs an Expander?

You’re no doubt familiar with orthodontic treatments like braces and Invisalign®. Both treatment options can straighten teeth and resolve a number of bite issues, but what do you do if the size of your upper jaw is too narrow to ultimately achieve an optimal orthodontic outcome?

Think expanders, or more specifically a rapid palatal expander, says our own Dr. Pendleton. In this blog, Dr. Pendleton explains what a rapid palatal expander is and who needs one, and more importantly, how it can get you to that smile you’ve always wanted.

What is an expander?

Let’s start unpacking this topic by first defining an expander. A rapid palatal expander is a custom-made orthodontic appliance that addresses bad bites or malocclusions by slowly expanding the width of the upper jaw. An expander is installed over the top teeth in the back of your mouth. Although expanders can be used on adults and teens, it’s most effective for pre-adolescent children because the two halves of the upper jaw haven’t fully fused together yet and a SKELETAL change is still possible.

At this critical juncture in development the two halves are more susceptible to being safely reconfigured through gentle pressure with the ultimate purpose of creating a wider upper jaw for excellent orthodontic results. Although an expander can be used as a standalone orthodontic treatment, it’s often used before braces to eliminate possible alignment issues if the patient has a narrow upper jaw. 

Plays out in 6-9 months

Similar to braces, the treatment timeline for rapid palatal expanders differs from patient to patient depending on the desired final width needed as well as how quickly the jaw expands. Here at Pendleton Orthodontics the treatment timeline typically takes 6-9 months.

The process begins when Dr. Pendleton takes a scan of your child’s upper and lower jaw. This includes taking pictures; we don’t have to take molds of teeth anymore! He sends this data out to a dental laboratory, which fabricates the custom made high-grade metal orthodontic appliance. When the expander comes back from the lab, Dr. Pendleton installs it by adhering the expander onto the last upper molars.

Then comes your part. Once the expander is in place, Dr. Pendleton shows you how to activate the appliance by turning the screw every day at home. Each time you turn the screw, it creates tension at the intersection of the two palatal bones, which ultimately moves the bones apart to increase the width of the upper jaw.

During treatment, you’ll meet with the team at Pendleton Orthodontics for periodic checkups to track progress. Typically the target expansion point is achieved in 2-4 weeks. Once target expansion has been achieved, your provider cements the screw in place. Over the next few months the expander is left in this stationary position to allow your bones time to adjust and stabilize to its new width.

Treats a variety of bite and alignment issues

A rapid palatal expander is a versatile tool for addressing a number of malocclusions and issues that contribute to poor teeth alignment, most notably crossbites and crowded teeth.


In the case of a crossbite, the upper teeth actually fit inside the lower teeth. Aside from causing issues with your bite and smile, untreated crossbites can ultimately cause excessive wear on teeth enamel as well as jaw pain or TMJ(D).

Crowded teeth

As you probably know one of the top reasons for bite issues is crowded teeth. Expanders can effectively create more space for permanent teeth and at the same avoid the need for extractions to create optimal alignment and proper bite. A nice side benefit is that because rapid palatal expanders essentially create more space, it also reduces the risk of developing impacted permanent teeth.

If you or your child has bite or alignment issues, and want to learn if an expander can help you get that dazzling, healthy smile you’ve always wanted, contact Pendleton Orthodontics today. Request an appointment online, call us at 512-355-7727 or text us at 325-240-5640. You are one step away from getting the smile you’ve always dreamed about. Contact us today.