What Is a Palate Expander, and Why Do I Need One?

By Appel Orthodontics
February 3, 2022

Orthodontic treatment is easier to undertake on children than on adults because their mouths are still developing. This is especially true for children with narrow or undersized palates — better known as the roof of your mouth. A narrow palate can cause tooth overcrowding, crossbite, and even breathing problems. It’s something that you should address as soon as possible. A palate expander can fix the problem. This device allows palatal expansion without surgery and can help your child eat, speak and breathe easier. 

Appel Orthodontics knows all about palate expanders. We can customize one to your child’s mouth and expand their palate to make it easier to treat orthodontic problems later. 

What Is a Palate Expander?

A palate expander is a device that uses wires to put pressure on the back teeth and pushes them outward, widening the roof of the mouth and the area around it. The most common type is the nonsurgical Hyrex Rapid Palate Expander that attaches to the two back molars and sits against the inside of the back teeth. A small joint in the center of the palate expander appliance pushes the wires against the teeth. A small key is inserted into the joint and twisted once a day to push the wires out a little further, which forces the back teeth out.

It sounds a bit scary, doesn’t it? Don’t worry! It’s a safe, effective method for expanding your child’s palate. 

There are three main types of palate expanders:

  • Rapid Palate Expander (RPE) is used mainly in young patients with unfused palates to widen the jaw quickly. The Hyrax Expander is the most common type of RPE and doesn’t require any surgical procedure to install. 
  • Maxillary Skeletal Expansion (MSE): The MSE Expander is used mostly as a palate expander for adults and is placed in the mouth using a local anesthetic. It’s held there by four temporary implants in the palate. In addition to orthodontic issues, it’s used to help adult patients increase their airway space, curing sleep apnea, fatigue, sleeping issues, and breathing problems. 
  • Surgically-Assisted Rapid Palate Expansion (SARPE): This version requires surgery and is used only in the most severe adult patients. 

Is a Palate Expander Painful?

The first few days after the device is placed in your child’s mouth, your child may feel some discomfort. But that usually goes away rather quickly. After that, there shouldn’t be any pain with the daily expansion. 

If your child continues to feel discomfort after a week or so, give Appel Orthodontics a call. We can schedule an appointment to take a look. 

How Does a Palate Expander Work?

So how does a palate expander appliance work? The palate is made up of two bones in the maxillary or upper jaw. Those bones meet in the center of the palate, but they don’t actually fuse together until a child’s middle teen years. That means it’s easy to move the bones apart when the child is younger. The palate expander does this by applying pressure to either side of the jaw. The steady pressure slowly pries the palate open.

Now, we know what you might be thinking. Does this mean my child will have a gaping hole in the top of their mouth? The answer is no. The tough palate tissue covering the bone expands with the palate, and eventually, the bone fills in the gap. This extra bone keeps the teeth pushed out and widens the palate. As your child hits middle-teen years, that bone fuses and sets the palate permanently. 

How Long Will My Child Wear a Palate Expander?

A palate expander will likely do the job within three months or so, but the bone then needs to “set,” or harden. Otherwise, as soon as the appliance is removed, the palate will go right back to its original width. So the appliance stays in the mouth for another 3-6 months, on average, so the jaw can harden. In total, you can expect your child to wear a palate expander for 6-9 months. 

In some cases, the appliance can stay in longer, depending on the amount the jaw needs to expand. We will be able to determine the length of time before we install the appliance in your child’s mouth. 

Why Does My Child Need a Palate Expander?

Your child will need an orthodontic appliance expander if their palate is too narrow. This can lead to orthodontic problems, speech problems, and even breathing problems. An expanded palate, along with orthodontic treatment, can solve these problems.

Some of the problems a palate expander can solve include: 


A narrow palate can cause several orthodontic problems, including a crossbite. This happens when the upper teeth sit inside the lower teeth in the back instead of slightly outside as they should. An expander helps push the teeth outside the lower teeth where they belong.


With a narrow palate, there may not be enough room for the permanent teeth to come in properly. Instead, they erupt in front of or behind the space they are supposed to occupy, or they may come in sideways. This is called teeth crowding. 

Impacted teeth

Sometimes, there is so little space that the teeth can’t come in at all because other teeth are in the way. These are impacted teeth. Giving them proper room allows them to erupt as they should. 

Speech problems 

With a narrow palate, the tongue doesn’t have room to move properly. This can cause a speech impediment. It can also cause the tongue to push forward on the front teeth, leading to an overbite and other speech issues. Widening the palate gives the tongue enough room to move and form words properly. 

Breathing problems 

A narrow palate can also mean narrow nasal passages, making it difficult for the child to breathe through their nose. This can lead to them breathing through their mouths, which can cause dry mouth, halitosis (bad breath), and increased installation of bacteria. Widening the palate can also expand room in the nasal passages, allowing your child to breathe easier through their nose.  

Palate Expanders and Braces

Often, a child with a narrow palate will have orthodontic issues as a result. Your child will likely need treatment with braces or clear aligners once the palate expander is removed. For one thing, the expander tends to cause a space between the front teeth. Eventually, the teeth move closer together, but braces or clear aligners will ensure they end up in the right place. Orthodontic treatment will also fix the other orthodontic problems, including the crossbite, teeth crowding, and impacted teeth. 

Palate Expander Before and After

You will see a significant difference in your child before and after a palate expander and orthodontic treatment with Appel Orthodontics. Though there might be a slight difference in your child’s facial structure, the biggest difference will be the self-confidence your child will gain with straight, beautiful teeth and a gorgeous smile. 

For children with narrow upper jaws, a palate expander is an excellent tool to solve orthodontic, speech, and breathing problems and set your child up for successful treatment with braces or clear aligners. It also avoids painful surgery to expand the palate.

If you’re in the Philadelphia, PA, area, give Appel Orthodontics a call, and let us see what we can do for your child!

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