Sometimes children lose a primary tooth from decay or injury before a permanent one is ready to come in. This can lead to dental issues down the road. Why? When a tooth is missing, the other teeth shift to fill the gap. This can take up space that permanent teeth would normally occupy when they descend. As a result, permanent teeth come in crooked and crowded. This can affect your child’s speech and ability to chew. Eventually, your child could need orthodontic treatment to correct the problems caused by one missing baby tooth.
The solution? Space maintainers. These are devices that fill the space left by a missing tooth. They are custom fitted to your child’s mouth, and they keep the other primary teeth in place so permanent teeth can come in where they belong. The dentist removes the appliance when the permanent tooth above the missing one is ready to emerge.
There are several different types of space maintainers available, so be sure to discuss the options with your child’s dentist. Space maintainers can be a band or a temporary crown attached to one side of the open space with a loop or bar contacting the tooth on the other side of the space. They may be made out of plastic or metal.
Your child may have a space maintainer for years, since some permanent teeth don’t emerge until your child is 14 years old. So it’s important to care for it properly. Here are four guidelines for caring for space maintainers:
Children should not eat sticky candy or chew gum.
Make sure children don’t tug, push, or play with space maintainers with their fingers or tongue.
Keep the appliance clean by helping children brush and floss regularly.
Make sure children visit their dentist twice a year.
If the space maintainer comes loose, it’s important to see your dentist right away.
“Regular Dental Visits.” American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. http://d27vj430nutdmd.cloudfront.net/17249/64412/64412.3.pdf Accessed 2013.
“Space Maintenance.” American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. http://d27vj430nutdmd.cloudfront.net/17253/64416/64416.8.pdf Accessed 2013.
“Space Maintainers.” Mouth Healthy, American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/s/space-maintainers Accessed 2013.