Atlanta Orthodontic Specialists Treatments


Expanders. Making room for healthier smiles

Orthodontic treatment often includes a palatal expander, but many parents don’t know much about them! At Atlanta Orthodontic Specialists, we understand that every parent wants to be fully informed about every aspect of their child’s orthodontic care. So we put this page together to answer all your questions about palatal  expanders so you can make the right choices for your child’s orthodontic health.

Modes of Aligning Teeth:

What is a palatal expander?

A palatal expander is an appliance that’s used to expand a child’s palate (the roof of the mouth), creating enough room for all of the adult teeth to fit comfortably. The goal is to not just move the teeth, but widen the jaw itself. Expanding the upper jaw is done gradually, gently spreading apart the bones and cartilage of the upper jaw over a period of months. There are many different types of expanders, and the specific type of expander that your child needs will be determined by your orthodontist.

Are there different types of expanders?

Yes! There are many different versions of expanders. Your orthodontist will be able to tell you which one is best for your child. Two of the most common types of expanders we use in the office are a Quad-Helix and a traditional “Hyrax” palatal expander, though there are many variations!

How does a palatal expander work?

A palatal expander has either two or four rings or “bands” that are wrapped around a tooth on either side of your child’s mouth. In the middle of the expander is a small gear. With your help, your child will insert and turn a key in the gear every so often (according to the doctor’s advice) to slightly increase the outward tension of the expander. With each turn, the increased tension gradually spreads the palate apart to create more space for incoming teeth.

palatal expander
Quad Helix

How does a Quad-Helix work?

Instead of a “gear” that is turned every night, the quad helix has four loops (or helices) that essentially make this type of expander a large spring. When inserted, the orthodontist takes the appliance and widens these loops. That way, once the appliance is in place, it will provide a constant and gentle pressure to widen the palate and teeth. Unlike a “Hyrax” expander, this appliance is adjusted only by the orthodontist at regular visits.

When should my child get a palatal expander?

Timing expander treatment is very important. Palatal expanders should ideally be used before the two

separate plates of the palate fuse together in puberty (around age 14-16). Because of this,

expanders may be recommended as early as 6-10 years old, as they typically work best on younger children.

Expansion on younger patients is easier, and there are more options in terms of the type of expanders

that we use. If done early, expansion can be simpler and more effective.

Sometimes, expansion may be delayed until more permanent teeth erupt (12-14 years old),

but it is important to begin treatment with an expander prior the fusion of the upper palate bones.

How do I know if my child needs an expander? 

Our doctors will examine your child’s mouth, x-rays and development before recommending an expander.

Not every child needs one to have straight teeth!

There are three common situations where we recommend having an expander installed:



The child’s upper jaw is narrower than the lower jaw, resulting in the back top teeth biting inside the back bottom teeth.



Using x-rays and our years of experience helping Atlanta kids enjoy beautiful, straight smiles, we can tell ahead of time that your child’s mouth isn’t large enough to accommodate all their incoming adult teeth. Widening the upper jaw can create the space needed for a straight smile without extractions.

Impacted Teeth

Impacted teeth

Sometimes adult teeth don’t emerge on schedule because they are blocked by other teeth in a crowded young mouth. Expansion widens the space available for adult teeth to erupt without interference.

How long will my child wear an expander?

Every child is different, but on average, you can expect your child to wear an expander for 6 to 8 months. Braces may be used during this time as needed to help straighten the teeth.

Is wearing an expander uncomfortable?

As the expander widens, your child will feel pressure and possibly mild discomfort in their mouth initially. That discomfort dissipates with each day as the bones and cartilage of the palate move into place. If necessary, OTC pain relievers can help with any discomfort that comes from wearing the expander.

Is your child ready for an expander?

Call today and schedule a consult with one of our orthodontists. It’s never too early to put your child on the road to a healthy, straight smile they’ll be proud of!

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