Understanding Expanders

Problems with their palate don’t have to plague your son or daughter for life. With a specialized device called an expander, there’s a way to create the space the mouth needs. These expanders are most effective when applied during an individual’s childhood or teenage years, before their jaw finishes growing. 

At Georgetown Orthodontics in Washington, DC, Dr. Maya Oliver specializes in both upper and lower jaw expanders. Our team can put the right expander in place to set the patient up for a lifetime of enjoying a healthy, beautiful smile.

But what is a jaw expander, exactly? And how do these devices work?

How expanders work

Jaw expanders are designed to widen either the top or bottom jaw. Dr. Oliver attaches the expander to teeth on each side of your mouth. Then, using a specialized key that fits in the center of your expander, you can gradually increase the size of the expander. This gently extends the size of the jaw. 

On the top jaw, an expander works to widen the palate. This works for kids and teens because during the early parts of our lives, the top jaw exists as two halves. After puberty it fuses together, but it can be expanded for people as old as 16. 

The bottom jaw can’t be expanded. Instead, the expander works to angle your teeth outward. 

Usually, the entire process for jaw expansion takes no longer than six months. 

Fixing smile problems with a jaw expander

Whether Dr. Oliver recommends a jaw expander for the top or bottom jaw, the goal is to create more rounded arches and a better-spaced jaw, allowing for a more aligned, beautiful smile. 

Just a few of the smile problems she can correct with a jaw expander include:


In a mouth with properly aligned teeth, the upper teeth close outside the lower teeth. But with a crossbite, the lower teeth take the outermost position. This is often caused by a narrow upper jaw. 

Dr. Oliver can use a palate expander to widen the upper jaw, creating enough space in the smile so that the upper teeth can close outside the lower teeth. 


When the jaw is too narrow, the teeth might be crammed together. This pushes them out of alignment. With a jaw expander, Dr. Oliver can ensure there’s ample space for the teeth to be properly aligned.

Mouth breathing

Interestingly, oftentimes mouth breathing is caused by a narrow upper jaw, which makes it challenging to breathe through the nose. Dr. Oliver can use a jaw expander to help correct mouth breathing. 

If your child or teen is living with any of these oral challenges, don’t hesitate to call our office at Georgetown Orthodontics. We can apply our jaw expander expertise to help them get their dream smile.

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