Space Maintainers and Permanent Teeth
Whenever a child loses a tooth prematurely, a space maintainer may be needed to keep the space open so the permanent tooth can grow in correctly. Losing a baby tooth is a natural occurrence, but some baby teeth must be extracted due to dental decay. A space maintainer is a custom-made appliance that helps permanent teeth grow in correctly and prevent future oral health complications. If you are worried about the gap in between your child’s teeth, learn how a space maintainer can keep your child’s teeth straight and allow for proper tooth development!
Why Baby Teeth Fall Out Prematurely
Most children get their first full set of baby teeth by the age of 3, and these help them eat their food while serving as placeholders for their future permanent teeth. Occasionally, baby teeth are lost prematurely or permanent teeth erupt later than they should, so space maintainers have become a popular way to support the child’s mouth until the gaps are filled with permanent teeth. There are many reasons why children lose their baby teeth earlier than expected. For one, some experience trauma to the mouth, such as tripping or getting hit in the mouth with some object. Others lose teeth due to “baby bottle decay,” which occurs whenever a child falls asleep at either breast or bottle, or walks around with a bottle for large amounts of time. The sugar content in the milk causes enamel to decay and cavities to appear, which can lead to premature tooth loss. Genetic influences can also affect whether permanent teeth develop or not, which can leave gaps in the mouth. Although rare, some children suffer from oral infections that are severe enough to cause tooth loss, but this is not as common as an injury or baby bottle decay. Even though losing baby teeth prematurely is not inherently bad, the consequences of not having a tooth in the space where a permanent tooth will eventually erupt can cause some complications with malocclusion that will need orthodontic care later on. Space maintainers provide the mouth with the proper space for permanent teeth to erupt into while ensuring that other teeth do not crowd that area until the tooth develops.
How Space Maintainers Help
Space maintainers basically “hold space” for permanent teeth once a baby tooth has been lost prematurely. When adult teeth are ready to come into the mouth, there may not be enough room because of the lost space. For this reason, dentists recommend space maintainers to hold open any spaces left by the missing tooth. These devices are typically made of acrylic, with loops and bands made of steel wire to hold them in position. Space maintainers ensure that your child develops their permanent teeth in the right locations while giving support to the surrounding teeth. Teeth are notorious for moving or becoming loose without the support of surrounding teeth, so space maintainers also help other teeth stay in their proper places and not move into the gaps where the missing teeth were once located. Space maintainers aren’t for everyone, though. If your child loses a baby tooth shortly before a permanent tooth is expected to develop, a space maintainer isn’t necessary. For those patients whose permanent teeth won’t be developing for an extended amount of time, space maintainers come in handy to guide those teeth into proper alignment whenever they do erupt.
Type of Appliances
For those who choose space maintainers, they come in two different options: removable and fixed. Removable devices are made of acrylic and use artificial teeth to hold open the spaces. These are ideal for older children who are capable of removing and cleaning them on their own. For children with several missing teeth, partial dentures are another option to maintain the spaces in the mouth. Fixed maintainers are attached with dental cement to the teeth beside the gap. These are helpful for young children or those who have lost back teeth. Fixed retainers can be fitted on the upper or lower jaw to maintain space for front or back teeth. The device that your child will be given will depend upon the number and location of missing teeth in their mouth, but age is also considered, as well.
There are quite a few different options to choose from if your dentist recommends a fixed maintainer for your child. Some of the most popular options include:
- Lingual holding arch: Used to maintain space for lower back teeth on both sides.
- Band-and-loop device: Recommended when one or more baby molars are lost in one dental arch. Stainless steel wire that is held in place by orthodontic bands that allows the permanent tooth to erupt without blocking it.
- Distal shoe appliance: Fitted over the baby first molar and maintains the space for the permanent molar once the tooth is lost.
- Transpalatal arch: Fitted on the upper jaw to preserve space on both sides of the dental arch. Held in place by wire fastened around the surrounding teeth.
Each of these devices are custom-made to fit to your child’s mouth. The dentist will take impressions of your child’s teeth, then send that impression to the dental laboratory to create the appliance.
Advantages of Child Orthodontics
With the modern technology and tools that are available to dental patients, child orthodontics has become more popular and necessary to maintain the oral health of young kids. Especially if your child loses a baby tooth prematurely, visiting with an orthodontist early on can help detect hidden dental issues, observe the progress of incoming teeth, decrease the risk for permanent tooth extractions and guide incoming teeth into their ideal positions.
If your child is in need of a space maintainer or is having issues with crowded teeth, call Belmar Orthodontics at (303) 225-9016! Our team is dedicated to your oral health and is ready to help your family get the beautiful smile that they deserve!