Space maintainers: helping your children’s teeth

Space maintainers: helping your children’s teeth

March 9, 2020 10:04 am Published by

A space maintainer might sound odd, but it’s actually a very important dental aid that helps many children avoid more dental problems later on in life. These devices are used when children lose their baby teeth early on in life before the adult teeth have properly started to emerge through. Space maintainers do exactly what the name suggests – they keep the right amount of space for your child’s teeth, so they develop in the right way. They are used when baby teeth are lost early, and they make sure that the adult set of teeth emerge through exactly where they are meant to.

  • Why is a space maintainer necessary?

Without this clever device, it’s easy for adult teeth to move out of place. Think about it: baby teeth normally all come through by the age of three years, or around that time, starting from front to back. Adult teeth start to come through around six to 12 years. If baby teeth fall out before that time – then it can be a problem. If there’s too much space, the adult teeth can move as they grow, meaning they might come through crooked, or use up space intended for other teeth. That could involve costly and uncomfortable orthodontic work later on, to resolve a problem that need never have happened.

  • Losing baby teeth

Baby teeth can be lost early for a number of reasons. It could be genetic or from an unlucky accident. However, tooth decay does often play a big part in this situation – though not many people understand what this is or why it happens. The fact is, bottled and breast milk all contain sugar. While that’s exactly not a bad thing for the baby, it can be bad for teeth if they come into contact with the sugary liquids for too long. This can happen when a baby is left with a bottle for an extended period of time – may be falling asleep with it, or being allowed to suck on a bottle while they do other things. Unfortunately, if not washed out with water or managed properly, this prolonged sugar contact can allow bacteria to flourish, and cause tooth decay or even tooth loss.

  • What does a space maintainer look like?

A space maintainer can be made of metal or plastic – most often, it’s a small acrylic or metal band that fits around one tooth, with a stainless steel wire next to it. If the maintainer needs to stay in place for a longer period of time, a fixed appliance could be used, where dental cement fixes it in place. Or, it might need to be removable so it can be kept clean while at home. In any case, the maintainer will be custom-made and fitted for your child by your pediatric dentist and a professional dental lab.

  • Types of space maintainer

There are several different types. A ‘band and loop’ is used when a molar at the back of the mouth has been lost. It uses orthodontic bands to keep wires in place, allowing the adult tooth to emerge in the right place. If the tooth has been lost on the upper jaw then a trans-palatal arch is likely to help – it does the same task, but in a slightly different way, keeping open space on both sides of the device. If more than one tooth has been lost, then a lingual space maintainer might be used.

  • What if my child hates it?

A space maintainer does a very important job – while it may take a few days for your child to get used to it, it’s very important to persevere. A little hard work now can save from a bigger problem later on. Try not to let your child poke it or move the device around – and avoid chewing gum and hard candy. Your pediatric dentist will also want to check the maintainer is doing its job properly, on a regular basis. Once adult teeth have started to show through, it’s job done!

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