Dental space maintainers are important and widely used, yet the average parent knows far less about them than braces or other dental devices. These maintainers are often recommended by a dentist when a child is losing their baby teeth but won't have adult replacements growing in for a few months to years. While they're not always required for a temporary gap in the smile, they can make a big difference for certain pediatric dental patients. Learn what you need to know about putting in a dental space maintainer from us here at Saginaw Kids Dentistry.
The space maintainer functions similarly to what the name suggests. When a child loses a baby tooth, a space is temporarily created for the new adult tooth to grow into. Yet teeth can easily shift from the pressure of chewing and biting, especially if the gap persists for more than a few months before the new tooth begins to emerge. Putting a device known as a dental space maintainer in the mouth holds that space open by preventing the surrounding teeth from sliding into the open gap. This maintainer is only needed until the adult tooth grows in, and it won't prevent the surrounding teeth from getting loose and falling out as necessary.
There are a few different types of dental spacers or space maintainers. The band and loop space maintainer is perhaps the most commonly used for pediatric dentistry. A metal band wraps around a nearby intact tooth, preferably a larger tooth like a molar. This band supports a loop of metal wire that runs to the next closest tooth and presses against it. This design works well because it's open enough for easy brushing and won't interfere with chewing or speech. However, it works only for single tooth gaps. For larger gaps where multiple teeth are missing, designs with crowns rather than bands are often recommended for holding better pressure without risking damage to the underlying tooth. Other options include sub-lingual bilateral designs where a wire that runs under the tongue maintains spaces on both sides of the upper or lower sets of teeth.
Maintaining proper spacing of the teeth takes more care than you might think. As your child's teeth are lost between the ages of 6 and 12, they'll face unknown periods of time when they're waiting for the replacements to grow in. Teeth can shift a surprising amount when there's a gap between them, even in a period as short as six months. Keeping teeth in place and maintaining an open gap ensures that the adult teeth grow into the natural placement without issue. The prompt use of space maintainers during the right parts of childhood can result in a straighter, more even adult smile without the need for braces. Even if braces are needed as your child gets older, using space maintainers can reduce the length of time they'll need to wear them by reducing the total alignment change they'll need. Most children find space maintainers far more comfortable to use than braces, so explaining the benefits to your children may help them accept the idea of getting these devices put in.
Since children can start losing their baby teeth around age 6, space maintainers can go in as early as that age. Most baby teeth are lost by age 12, but the dentist may place a spacer after that age if a particular adult tooth is taking a long to emerge. Most children can have their dental spacers removed by the age of 14 to 16 or even earlier. The dentist must check the space every six months, or even more often, so they can remove the device before the adult tooth emerges. Don't skip any dental appointments after having space maintainers put in.
There are dental spacers for children that can fill the biggest gaps. If enough teeth are missing in one area that your child is struggling to chew or speak, the dentist can offer alternatives that help improve the bite pattern by filling in some of the missing space. The use of a temporary partial denture, or "flipper" in popular vernacular, can maintain the gap while also disguising the space and helping your child chew.
Not sure if your child needs dental space maintainers? Schedule a consultation here at Saginaw Kids Dentistry for the answer.
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