Space Maintainers

Space Maintainers

April 9, 2020 7:55 am Published by

A space maintainer is an orthodontic device, custom-made on an individual case basis. As the name suggests, its function is to keep some space between two teeth for a period of time to enable a permanent tooth to grow in between.

Baby teeth, or ‘milk teeth’ as they are known, are crucial for jaw, muscle and tooth development as well as to later allow a child’s permanent teeth to replace them. As a child begins to lose his/her milk teeth, the open spaces created need to be maintained to allow room for permanent teeth. If the latter fail to erupt, there might be a need for orthodontic treatment.

Early loss of one or more milk teeth occur, through decay for example, does not automatically indicate the need for a space maintainer. However, such cases do warrant a visit to the dentist in order to establish whether or not a space maintainer may be deemed necessary.

On the other hand, teeth may sometimes be missing for congenital reasons and instead of a space maintainer, a partial denture may be required. Your dentist will consult with you in such cases.

Types of Space Maintainers

Space maintainers can be either fixed (usually metal) or removable (usually acrylic). Fixed space maintainers are generally comprised of four different types:

Unilateral- positioned on the side of the mouth to maintain the space for one tooth. Those are fixed by a ring around the outside of the adjacent tooth, while a connecting metal loop maintains the space for the permanent tooth. Crown and loop – here, a crown covers the adjacent tooth – while similar to the unilateral type, a connecting metal loop keeps the space open.

Distal shoe – it is usually applied to accommodate a child’s first permanent molar (back tooth). This is a more complex design with the end of the metal attached to the gum. Your dentist also needs to monitor the erupting permanent molar to ensure it grows properly in position.

Lingual- that is generally applied where there is more than one space to be kept open. The maintainer is hooked to the molar teeth on both sides, with a metal wire connected to the row of the front teeth.

Earing the Space Maintainer

Once fitted – whether fixed or removable – your child will take a few days to become used to wearing his/her space maintainer. Your dentist will advise both you and your child on the proper methods to clean the device thoroughly, and on brushing/flossing to keep the teeth and gums healthy.

In the case of fixed devices, chewy, sugary sweets and candies should be avoided. Pressing the device with fingers or the tongue should also be avoided to prevent damage or bending.

Your pediatric dentist/orthodontist should see your child regularly to monitor progress. Your child should also maintain regular six-monthly visits to the hygienist to ensure proper and ongoing cleanliness of the space maintainer.

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