Space maintainers are a dental device used for children as they lose teeth and wait for their adult teeth to grow in. There are several reasons why your child's dentist might recommend this device, because the maintainer can help preserve your child's dental health as he grows, provided it's properly cared for. If your child is missing a tooth, talk to his dentist about whether a space maintainer is needed.
Space maintainers are used to hold a place in your child's mouth when a tooth falls out. They aren't generally used with normal primary tooth loss, but instead are meant to keep teeth aligned and spaced properly if your child has a baby tooth knocked out before it falls out on its own, if a permanent tooth is missing or if a tooth is lost due to decay. When a tooth is lost too soon, it can impact tooth alignment so this device acts as the lost tooth to help adult teeth grow in their proper positions.
There several types of space maintainers, and a dentist can determine the appropriate type for your child, according to the Atlas of Pediatric Dentistry. A removable device, generally made of acrylic, resembles an orthodontic retainer and can be taken out for eating and cleaning. A fixed space maintainer attaches to the teeth or gums around the empty space and is often a better choice for small children who might not be able to care for a removable device as well as youngsters who have lost a back tooth. Some fixed space maintainers are attached with wires and held in place with a crown on a nearby tooth. These devices can be unilateral (on one side of the mouth) or bilateral (on both sides of the mouth). Another type of space maintainer is called a distal shoe and is a fixed maintainer where the metal is placed into the gumline to keep the open space from closing with the eruption of the first permanent molar. A lingual space maintainer is bilateral and is used for more than one missing tooth and the wire can be cemented to molar teeth and is on the inside of the lower front teeth.
Taking care of your child's space maintainer prolongs the device's lifespan and ensures it does its job properly. The maintainer should be cleaned whenever your child brushes and flosses his teeth - at least twice a day. Removable maintainers can be taken out of your child's mouth and cleaned, while fixed maintainers can be brushed when your child cleans his teeth in the morning and before bed. It's also important to take good care of the gums where the space maintainer is placed. This helps keep the area clean and healthy, so when the permanent tooth erupts, there aren't any issues that will affect your child's oral health. In addition, your child's dentist will need to check the space maintainer on a regular basis to ensure that it's doing what its supposed to and isn't causing any problems in your child's mouth. If your child loses or damages a space maintainer, let the dentist know right away so a replacement can be made. Failing to use the space maintainer properly can result in misaligned teeth, which can be painful and expensive to fix. It's still necessary for your child to have regular cleanings while wearing a space maintainer, so be sure to schedule regular trips to the dentist as you normally would.