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.
A Complete Success
Inserting a tooth space maintainer is a two-step process. The dentist takes a mold of your child's teeth, which is sent to a laboratory to create the maintainer. Once the dental space maintainer is complete and returned to the dental office, the dentist cements the band around the supporting tooth. The loop circles the gums where the tooth was lost, and rests against the tooth on the other side.
In order for the space maintainer to be successful, you and your child must take care of it. Stay away from sticky foods and gum, which can easily get stuck within the wires. Supervise your child so they don't play with the maintainer with their tongue or fingers. Not only should you brush and floss every day, but also check for any food that that might become trapped under and around the appliance. Finally, take your child to visit the dentist regularly to make sure the tooth space maintainer is working properly. Your dentist will remove the device once the permanent tooth is ready to erupt.
Skipping the space maintainer can cause plenty of dental problems in the years to come. Crooked teeth are much harder to clean and cause more wear and tear to the tooth's surface, leading to a greater chance of needing a tooth filling or gum disease treatment down the line. It will become harder to eat with an incorrect bite, and having a gap between teeth for a long period of time inhibits speech development. Not only will the child most likely require orthodontic dental treatment, but teeth that are blocked may even call for oral surgery to correct the problem. Essentially, a simple space maintainer can help save you a lot of money in the long run.
A space maintainer is an excellent solution to the missing teeth dilemma. If your child has lost a baby tooth well before its time, see a kid dentist right away. Space maintainers will preserve your child's bite and decrease the possibility of needing dental braces later. So if your child loses a tooth early, consider a space maintainer as part of their preventive dentistry program -- and