Your child has lost a primary tooth, or baby tooth, prematurely, and your dentist recommends a space maintainer.
What is a space maintainer?
A space maintainer, or an orthodontic spacer, are rubber bands or metal appliances used in orthodontics to hold a space for where a baby tooth once was. This dental appliance is essential to the growth of your child’s teeth because it reduces the risk for any movement or improper growth placement within the set of teeth.
Baby teeth are significant for two purposes: chewing and holding a place in the mouth for permanent teeth to grow into. When the permanent teeth are ready to make their way down, they will push the baby teeth out and fall into the correct place and position they should be in along the gum line. If the baby teeth fall out prematurely, there is a space left in the gum line where a permanent tooth should grow in; however, without the support of the baby tooth, there is a risk that the nearby baby teeth will shift into the empty space. Having the nearby baby teeth shift poses an issue as it interferes with the permanent teeth growing into its appropriate space.
If a dentist recommends that your child have a spacer put in, you have options! There are two types of space maintainers: removable and fixed.
- Removable – Removable space maintainers are similar to orthodontic appliances, and are generally made out of acrylic. Depending on the assessment made by the dentist, an artificial tooth may be used to fill a space until the permanent tooth is ready to erupt.
- Fixed – Fixed space maintainers stay within the mouth at all times. There are four types of fixed space maintainers available.
- Unilateral – This space maintainer is placed on the side of the mouth as a place holder. The metal appliance is wrapped around the tooth and attached to a loop that holds the space intact.
- Crown and Loop – Similar to the unilateral space maintainer, this space maintainer is also placed on the side of the mouth as a place holder. The crown covers the tooth completely and is attached to a loop that holds the space intact.
- Distal Shoe – This space maintainer is typically used for an unerupted first permanent molar tooth. The metal appliance is inserted into the gum to ensure an open space. A dentist will need to monitor this appliance regularly to make certain the molar will erupt properly with the appliance in.
- Lingual – This space maintainer is generally used for more than one missing tooth. The appliance is cemented to the molar teeth and connected by a wire running on the inside of the lower front teeth.
Having a space maintainer, whether removable or fixed, is going to take some time to get accustomed to. When implemented, be sure to ask your dentist or orthodontist about maintaining and cleaning the spacer so it is efficient is doing its job. If the spacer appears to be broken or damaged, it will need to be assessed as soon as possible.