A third of all children starting school each year have signs of tooth decay, so it’s not uncommon that your child may need to undergo a tooth extraction or two at some point during their childhood. If, for some reason, your child may need to lose a tooth prematurely, a dentist may recommend and insert an orthodontic spacer, or space maintainer. An orthodontic spacer, commonly referred to simply as a spacer, are rubber bands or metal appliances used in orthodontics.
Since this practice is a commonly used dental technique, a frequently asked question by parents is: why would my child need a spacer?
Most children acquire their first set of teeth, or baby teeth, by age of 3 years old. These baby teeth serve two very important functions: to chew and to serve as a placeholder until the permanent teeth erupt. If the baby tooth is lost prematurely, it may not affect your child’s chewing ability; however, there is now an empty space that once served as a placeholder.
At around the age of 6 years old, children tend to start losing their baby teeth naturally to make room for the permanent teeth. This process takes around 6 years total from start to finish to completely clear the mouth of all baby teeth. Unfortunately, there are instances in which a child will lose their teeth prematurely.
This is where the orthodontic spacer comes to play.
Children of all ages can lose their baby teeth prematurely for various reasons such as trauma to the mouth, such as having a tooth cracked, broken, or knocked out, or severe tooth decay. If this happens, your dentist will implement an orthodontic spacer to maintain a space in the mouth for the permanent tooth to grow in. Leaving a space in the mouth without the spacer as a placeholder for support can increase the risk for other teeth to loosen, move, and change positions. This device will ensure that the permanent tooth will grow into the correct space and position as it would have naturally if the baby tooth was in place.
Once the spacer has been implemented, your child will need to become acclimated to the appliance to make sure it is not causing any pain or discomfort. Additionally, they will need to learn how to maintain the appliance. Periodically, the appliance may need to be adjusted and will require immediate attention if the device is damaged for any reason.
If your child needs a spacer applied to their mouth, speak to your dentist or orthodontist about options for appliances, maintenance instructions, and any questions you may have regarding the device.