Space maintainers can save your child's smile. They are specially designed to protect space for your child's permanent teeth when baby teeth are prematurely lost because of injury or decay. If a tooth is lost too soon, your dentist may suggest a space maintainer to prevent future dental problems.
The primary teeth or baby teeth play an important role in your child's developing mouth. They help in the normal development of the muscles and jawbones. Primary teeth serve as natural space maintainers, holding the space until the permanent teeth push them out. If baby teeth are lost too early, the other teeth can drift into the vacant space. This might cause teeth to come in crooked or unable to erupt into the gum, which leads to malocclusion, the improper positioning of the teeth and jaws. It also can cause a permanent tooth to appear prematurely, before what's best for a child's long-term dental health.
It's a small device made of either plastic or metal and custom-fit to the child's mouth. It is a firmly fixed appliance, consisting of a band or temporary crown attached to a tooth on one side of the empty tooth socket. A wire loop or spring bridges the space to a tooth on the other side of the socket. Rarely, a dentist may make a removable space maintainer that is like a retainer or mouth guard.
Good oral hygiene is important. The space maintainer should be kept clean and teeth need to be brushed at least twice a day and flossed daily. Certain things must be avoided with a space maintainer in place -- no sticky sweets, chewing gum, or tugging on it with either fingers or the tongue.
Most children adjust within a few days to the new experience of a space maintainer. It can dramatically make a difference in a child's dental health and be worth any temporary discomfort or inconvenience.
by Brian J. Gray, DDS, MAGD, FICO