If your child loses a tooth too early because of an accident or dental decay, or if your child has to have a tooth extracted for similar reasons, your dentist may recommend space maintainers. Space maintainers are exactly what they sound like: they are dental appliances that maintain space in the mouth, giving the permanent/adult teeth time to grow in properly.
Baby teeth serve a very important role because they help guide permanent teeth into their proper place. If a child loses a baby tooth before the adult tooth is ready to come in, other teeth will shift into the space and complex orthodontic treatment may be required later. This is where space maintainers serve an extremely useful purpose.
There are several different kinds of space maintainers and what kind is used depends on the location of the missing tooth or teeth and the child’s needs. One of the most common types of space maintainers is the band and loop, where a metal band is fitted and cemented around the child’s molar and is attached to a wire loop that reaches over the space, touching the next tooth. The wire loop keeps the space available for the permanent tooth and helps guide it into place as it grows in. One of the benefits of this type of space maintainer is that it is cemented into the child’s mouth and cannot be taken out. This takes the pressure off the child and parent to keep up with a dental appliance at every snack and meal.
Another kind of fixed space maintainer that may be used is called a distal shoe space maintainer. Because permanent first molars are required for the band and loop space maintainer, a distal shoe may be used if the patient is too young to have his or her first permanent molars yet. A distal shoe is secured onto a baby molar and just like the band and loop, will maintain space for the first permanent molar when it’s ready to grow in.
Because most of the space maintainers used today are permanent, it is critical that the proper oral care is taken to avoid tooth decay or damage to the appliance. If your child gets a space maintainer, make sure he or she is brushing at least twice a day, paying special attention to the teeth and gums around the space maintainer since it will be easier for food to get stuck in this area. As it goes with most dental appliances, with space maintainers your child will need to avoid particularly sticky or hard foods such as bubblegum, gummy candies, or whole apples. Your child will have regular checkups with the dentist to ensure the space maintainer is doing its job and not causing any problems for your child.
Not every child that loses a baby tooth prematurely will need a space maintainer, but in order to avoid complex braces later on, it is important to see your dentist immediately. We would love to help you through this so give us a call at Cornerstone Family Dentistry today to make an appointment!