How Space Maintainers Can Help Prevent the Need for Orthodontics

Space maintainers can help your child's teeth

Early Orthodontic Care with Space Maintainers

Baby teeth will eventually fall out, but what happens when a baby tooth is lost before it was naturally shed?

Injuries from an accidental fall or roughhousing with a friend can result in a baby tooth being knocked out before it was ready to leave. Unlike adult teeth, baby teeth that have been knocked out aren’t able to be treated. Instead, a dentist will often recommend the placement of an oral appliance called a space maintainer.

What are space maintainers?

Space maintainers are one the most frequently used orthodontic devices in children, particularly youngsters who still have many baby teeth left.

As their name suggests, they are used to maintain a gap in your child’s smile after a baby tooth has been knocked out or extracted due to irreparable damage or severe decay. Some children also have CMT or congenitally missing teeth. Space maintainers can be used in these cases to ensure ample space is maintained for future adult teeth or placement of future prosthetic teeth.

Space maintainers come in a few different types, including fixed and removable options. Fixed options tend to be the most frequently used, but removable space maintainers can be very useful for old kids who will soon have an adult tooth erupting.

Fixed space maintainers come in four styles: crown and loop, distal shoe, lingual, and unilateral. Your child’s pediatric dentist or pediatric orthodontist will recommend the right style based on your child’s needs. For example, a crown and loop are ideal for treating a single tooth gap, such as a molar, while lingual space maintainers are perfect for cases of multiple missing teeth, such as the case of CMT.

When are space maintainers recommended?

Space maintainers are recommended whenever a baby tooth is lost (or missing) a significant length of time before the adult tooth is due to arrive.

An experienced pediatric dentist or pediatric orthodontist will be able to estimate the arrival of an adult tooth by taking X-rays of your child’s smile. They will compare these X-rays to any previous ones taken and use their own education and knowledge to get a ballpark idea of when the permanent tooth will erupt.

If there are months or more before the tooth might come in, a space maintainer will be recommended. If X-rays show the adult tooth is right under the surface and about to erupt, a space maintainer may not be necessary.

What happens if space maintainers aren’t used?

Teeth can shift surprisingly quickly when there is a gap, causing neighboring teeth to twist, turn, and shift. The result is gapped, crowded, and tilted teeth, all issues that can lead to a more severe malocclusion requiring intensive orthodontic treatment in the future. Space maintainers prevent this from happening.

Your child’s dentist or orthodontist will go over their findings with you to explain why a space maintainer is recommended. You’ll discuss the best option for your child, look at their X-rays together, and determine the best course of treatment. Dentists and orthodontists only recommend space maintainers when it’s in the very best interest of your child’s long-term oral health.

Is it too late for my child to get a space maintainer?

It’s never too late for your child to receive orthodontic care, but there is a somewhat short length of time in which a space maintainer can be effectively used. Only an experienced pediatric dentist or orthodontist will be able to determine if your child would still benefit from a space maintainer if a significant length of time has passed since their tooth was lost. 

If your child lost a baby tooth a while ago or they never had one erupt due to a congenital disorder, now is the time to see either their pediatric dentist or orthodontist for a consultation.

Will space maintainers prevent my child from needing braces?

Space maintainers won’t necessarily stop your child from ever benefiting from braces as there are simply too many variables in place. However, space maintainers can reduce the amount of time your child may need to wear braces if you choose to get them braces in the future. This means less money and less time for future orthodontic treatment, just from a very simple oral appliance worn during childhood. Therein lies the biggest benefit for both parent and child.

How can I prevent premature tooth loss in my child?

While CMT or dental trauma can’t be helped, premature baby tooth loss from decay can be. From a very early age, begin to teach your child about the importance of dental care. Show them how to brush their teeth using the proper technique (two minutes twice a day), how to floss, and why these things are important. You can also teach them about healthy eating and why sugar, though it may taste good, isn’t actually good for their teeth or body.

Learn more about space maintainers at The Tooth Doc!

If you have more questions about space maintainers or kids’ orthodontic care, our team is eager to help. You can get in touch or schedule a visit for your child by calling our Omaha, NE office or requesting a visit online.