Dental space maintainers (or spacers) are devices used for children who have lost some primary teeth but their permanent teeth have a while before they will grow in.
They hold space for the appropriate adult teeth to grow in. They also prevent the remaining adjacent primary teeth from moving into the open space.
When your orthodontist or dentist may recommend a space maintainer:
It is important to consult with an orthodontist or pediatric dentist about using a space maintainer appliance anytime a child loses their baby teeth early. Especially in the back of the mouth where there is often less room for permanent teeth to develop and erupt.
Timeline for children’s teeth:
- At 6 months to 1 year, your child’s primary teeth should start to come in
- Around 3 years old your child should have most of their baby teeth
- Around 6 years old your child’s teeth should start to fall out, and this can continue until around age 12. Teeth tend to fall out in the order they grew in.
- If your child’s primary teeth begin to fall out early, consult a dentist to discuss the possible need for a space maintainer appliance
- If you are looking for a specialist to evaluate your child, call Doctor Anderson at Russell Anderson Jr. Dentistry
What do space maintainers look and feel like?
Space maintainers are custom-made of acrylic or metal. They look somewhat like a retainer used after orthodontia. Some have rubber bands or metal springs. They can be fixed or removable. Your dentist or orthodontist will recommend the most appropriate type for your child.
If the missing tooth or teeth are in the front of the mouth, you can request a spacer to be fabricated with a false tooth or teeth attached to fill the space(s). Discuss the options with your dentist.
Does a space maintainer appliance hurt?
Spacers are not meant to move or shift any teeth, so there is usually no pain associated with them. Kids generally get used to them quickly.
How long should a space maintainer appliance stay in the mouth?
Space maintainers can remain in the mouth until the adult teeth push the spacer out. Spacers can also be removed before an adult tooth pushes it out. Metal spring-type spacers need to be removed when the adult tooth starts growing in. Acrylic spacers are pushed out on their own by incoming adult teeth.
How to care for a space maintainer:
- Avoid sticky candy, fruit snacks, taffy, and chewing gum
- Practice proper dental hygiene including daily brushing and flossing
- Continue twice-yearly dental visits or more if your dentist advises
- Try to help your child not push on the device with their fingers or tongue
The bottom line:
The most important thing is to consult a dentist if your child’s baby teeth begin to fall out earlier than expected. Your child may benefit from a dental space maintainer. It is better to be on the cautious side rather than leaving things to chance. If your child needs a spacer but is never fitted for one, he or she could be more likely to need braces when all the adult teeth come in.
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