We're all aware that children's baby teeth fall out to make way for permanent teeth. Usually, the permanent tooth pushes the primary tooth out when it's ready to emerge. But not all kids are ready for their adult teeth. When a baby tooth is lost early to tooth decay or trauma, it may take years before the permanent tooth is mature enough to enter the world. In that case, you child's dentist will apply a dental space maintainer to preserve the opening.
Why bother using a space maintainer when a child's teeth are going to fall out anyway? A primary tooth that is lost early can cause existing teeth to drift into the vacant space, blocking the permanent tooth's path and not allowing it to grow in properly. When there's not enough room, teeth may come in crooked, crowded or not at all. This can cause problems with chewing and speech, not to mention a hefty bill from the orthodontist by the time your child becomes a teenager!
Space maintainers literally maintain the space created by the lost tooth and there are several types of space maintainers available. Made of steel or plastic, the tooth space maintainer consists of a band that is attached to the neighboring tooth and a loop that surrounds the open space made by the missing tooth.
Prevention Is the Best Medicine
Dental space maintainers are normally cemented to the existing tooth, but if your child is old enough to care for the appliance, your dentist may place a removable space maintainer over the opening. A removable space maintainer uses a dental crown or fake tooth, and can be used for aesthetic reasons. The dentist may even create dentures when more than one tooth in a row is missing, or if the child has a deformity that prevents permanent teeth from forming correctly below the gum line.