Space Maintainers Can Help Permanent Teeth Grow in Straight

Primary teeth typically begin to appear when a baby is between age six months and one year. Primary teeth help children chew and speak. They also hold space in the jaws for permanent teeth that are developing under the gums.

Most children have a full set of 20 primary teeth by the age of 3 years. The primary teeth generally begin to shed, or fall out, at about 6 years of age. The first of the 32 permanent teeth begin to appear about the same time.

If a child loses a primary tooth early through decay or injury, the child's other teeth could shift and begin to fill the vacant space. When the permanent teeth emerge, there's often not enough room for them. The result is crooked or crowded teeth and difficulties with chewing or speaking.

To prevent that, a dentist can insert a space maintainer to hold the spot left by the lost tooth until the permanent tooth emerges. The space maintainer might be a band or a temporary crown attached to one side of the vacant space. Later, as the permanent teeth emerge, the dentist will remove the device.

The ADA recommends that a dentist examine a child within six months of the eruption of the first tooth and no later than the first birthday. A dental visit at an early age is a "well baby checkup" for the teeth. Besides checking for tooth decay and other problems, the dentist can demonstrate how to clean the child's teeth properly and how to evaluate any adverse habits such as thumbsucking.

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