Who Needs Expanders?

Who Needs Expanders?

Crooked teeth and wonky bites are common in kids. Although many people’s teeth straighten out and bite right once they’ve erupted and grown in, most don’t. From minor angles and protrusions to major malocclusions, there are many ways your child’s smile can end up off-kilter.

Braces are an excellent way to straighten out crooked teeth, but when the problem lies in the jaw, palatal expanders are the go-to treatment.

At LM Orthodontics in McLean, Virginia, our team of experts specializes in diagnosing and treating jaw problems before they have a chance to cause major teeth problems. Here’s what you need to know about expanders and your child’s developing jaw. 

A closer look at your kid’s jaw

Starting in the womb and continuing through to puberty, your child’s jawbone is still growing and strengthening. In fact, the upper jaw starts out in two separate pieces that don’t fuse together till they’re about 14-16 years old. 

During this phase of their life, we can gather a lot of information about how their adult teeth will fit — or not fit — in their mouth. If we foresee a problem that will result in a bad bite, now is the perfect time to intervene with palatal expanders, which gradually widen your child’s jaw.

What can expanders fix?

Expanders can work on the upper jaw, lower jaw, or both, depending on the situation. There are three main problems that fall into the expander’s wheelhouse.


Overcrowded teeth are a common cause of crooked teeth and the primary reason for needing braces. It’s also a common reason people end up needing to have a tooth or two extracted.

In most cases, we can determine whether there’s enough room for adult teeth or not. If we detect a narrow jaw early in your child’s development, we can apply an expander to widen the space and accommodate the adult teeth.

Impacted teeth

Sometimes, an adult tooth gets blocked by a neighboring tooth, so it can’t push through the gums. This is particularly common with canine teeth (also known as eye teeth). To prevent impaction and allow the tooth to erupt, expanders make way for the new arrival.


Your teeth are designed to fit together precisely, and any misalignment can lead to cracks, fractures, achy jaw muscles, tooth pain, and headaches. A crossbite is one of the types of malocclusion that’s common in children and treatable with an expander. 

This condition occurs when their upper back teeth rest slightly inside the lower teeth instead of outside. The expander gently forces the row of teeth into the correct position so they stand straight and tall and overlap the bottom row as they should. 

What to expect if your child needs an expander

If your child suffers from any of the above conditions, they may benefit from expanders. Most kids tolerate them well and don’t complain of any pain. The expander mechanism is adjustable, so you turn the key in the center of the appliance about a quarter millimeter every day per our prescribed treatment plan, which some children find is an exciting event, especially if you present it in a positive way.

Every case is unique, but depending on the severity of your child’s problem, they may need to wear the expander for about 3-6 months. It takes a little while for their tongue to get used to the feel of the appliance, but once they do, they usually forget it’s there.

The best thing about expanders is that they:

To find out if your child needs expanders, make an appointment by calling our friendly staff today, or schedule your consultation online. We’re here to perform a full evaluation and help give your child the best chance at a great smile.

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