Do Space Maintainers for your teeth really matter?

Inborn teeth (also called Baby Teeth) should remain intact at least till the teenage, for every child. These inborn teeth start erupting from an average age of 6 months until the age of 2 years.

Some of the inborn teeth should stay till the age of 12 years.

Sometimes due to infection or caries affecting the teeth, they are not restorable anymore and unfortunately need to be extracted.

Teeth, in general, have a tendency to move and if they are in their right place, they become natural space maintainers.

Children may need space maintainers if they lose a tooth earlier in their childhood or have an inborn tooth extracted due to dental decay. In either case, it is important to know the benefits of using a space maintainer and how it can improve your child’s dental health.

A space maintainer is an appliance that is custom-made by a pediatric dentist in acrylic or metal material. It can either be removable or cemented in a child’s mouth. Its purpose is to keep the space open and to allow the permanent tooth to erupt and come into place. Baby teeth are important for the development of new teeth, jawbones and muscles and they play a role in holding permanent teeth into position when the baby teeth are lost. If space is not maintained, teeth can shift into the open space and orthodontic treatment may be required. Not every child who loses a baby tooth early or has a dental decay requires a space maintainer; however, a professional consultation with your pediatric dentist should be conducted to determine whether using a space maintainer is required or not.

Types of Space Maintainers

There are two types of space maintainers for children, removable and fixed.

1.    Removable – removable space maintainers are similar to orthodontic appliances and are usually made of acrylic. In some cases, an artificial tooth may be used to fill a space that must remain open for the unerupted tooth.

2.    Fixed – there are four different kinds of fixed space maintainers: unilateral, band and loop, distal shoe and lingual.

The unilateral and band and loop space maintainers are placed on one side of the mouth to hold space open for one tooth. The unilateral space maintainer wraps around the outside of the tooth and is connected to a metal loop that holds the space intact. The band and loop is an actual band that covers the tooth or an artificial crown and is attached to the loop to ensure there is space for the erupting tooth.

The distal shoe space maintainer is usually used for an unerupted first permanent molar tooth. It is a more complicated space maintainer because the end of the metal is usually inserted into the gum line to keep the open space from closing. The Pediatric dentist will need to monitor the progress of the erupting permanent molar to make sure it can erupt properly with this space maintainer.

The lingual space maintainer is usually bilateral in nature and may be cemented to molar teeth and connected by a wire on the inside of the lower front teeth. Usually, this is used for more than one missing tooth.

Sometimes children may be missing teeth due to congenital diseases and may require a partial denture versus a space maintainer. It is important to meet with your pediatric dentist to determine if this is an option.

Wearing the Space Maintainer:

Once the space maintainer is made by the pediatric dentist, it may take the child a couple of days to get used to wearing the appliance, whether removable or fixed. The pediatric dentist should review with the child and the parents the proper way to clean space maintainer thoroughly in order to keep the gum tissue healthy and free of dental plaque. Proper instructions for tooth-brushing and flossing should be considered for improving oral hygiene.

If the space maintainer is fixed, it will be important to avoid chewy and sugary foods, gum or candy, which may unfasten the appliance. Also, the space maintainer should not be pressed or pushed with the tongue or fingers because it could loosen or bend the appliance.

The child must be seen by the pediatric dentist on a regular basis to observe the progress of treatment with the space maintainer and the child should continue to receive a regular six-month professional cleaning appointment with the dental expert.