Most parents have been in this type of situation: your child may need some dental care, and you're wondering if it's the best choice for your child, their future, and your wallet. It's totally normal to have these concerns about space maintainers. We're here to help you understand the benefits they provide, the different types offered, and what to expect.
Your child’s primary (also known as baby) teeth generally fall out around when their permanent (also known as adult) teeth are ready to come in. This proximity in time helps provide a proper path for the erupting permanent tooth, ensuring your child’s tooth comes in properly and that their bite is aligned.
When one or more of their primary teeth fall out early from injury or other causes, there’s a resulting gap between their teeth that can potentially cause dental problems if left untreated. Natural forces in the mouth, like pressure from chewing and biting, can move the surrounding teeth out of position and create issues for the permanent tooth that will erupt in the missing spot.
Enter space maintainers. These helpful dental devices help maintain the space (get the name now?) where your child’s primary tooth was lost early. This ensures that the surrounding teeth are not affected and can keep proper distance and alignment, giving the erupting tooth the best chance to grow properly.
There are multiple space maintainers that your dental professional may recommend for your child based on where their missing tooth (or teeth) are located and their individual health history. The design of space maintainers ranges from simple to having multiple bands and wires and bands. They can be placed on teeth or an arch of your child’s mouth.
Regardless of the design, space maintainers are either attached to one side of the mouth (unilateral) or both (bilateral). Keep reading below, and we’ll outline important details of the two other categories of space maintainers: fixed and removable.
These appliances are typically applied by cementing them onto your child’s teeth, making them non-removable. This helps ensure your child doesn’t take them out and they can do their job.
Types of fixed space maintainers include:
- Band and loop: Consists of metal bands attached to surrounding teeth and connected via wire.
- Transpalatal arch: Consists of a stiff metal band attached to surrounding teeth on both sides of your child’s mouth.
- Distal shoe: Consists of a band places on the surrounding primary tooth and attached to your child’s nearby unerupted tooth to help guide its growth.
- Lingual holding arch: Consists of metal bands fitted around the permanent surrounding teeth on both sides of your child’s mouth and a wire bent into an arch.
These appliances are not fixed to your child’s teeth or mouth and can be removed easily for cleaning or other purposes without the help of a dental professional. It’s more common for dental professionals to recommend the fixed variety as children can easily lose or forget to wear the removable type.
While it may cause some slight discomfort for your child to have a space maintainer, this will outweigh the potential discomfort for permanent teeth that grow improperly and the resulting treatment.
Cost is, of course, a common concern of parents when it comes to treating their child’s dental problems. Rest assured that your dental professional is equipped to help you navigate these concerns and offer the best solutions for your budget. It’s also important to consider that a small cost upfront for a space maintainer is meant to prevent larger future dental issues that may be far more costly to treat.
Costs for your child’s space maintainer will vary on your location, dental professional, their specific type, and the amount your insurance covers. According to the North Carolina Industrial Commission in the US, coverage for these appliances can vary from $197 to $380, in addition to costs for your dental professional’s diagnosis and recommendation.
Maintenance and prevention are you and your child’s best bet when it comes to oral health in almost every circumstance. Discussing with your child about proper dental hygiene is a great idea to prevent potential problems down the road.
Fixed space maintainers can make it difficult to clean around and between the affected teeth, so special attention should be given to these areas to ensure they’re adequately cared for. Removable space maintainers can be taken out of your child's mouth and gently rinsed and cleaned twice a day when they brush their teeth, following the instructions provided by your dental professional.
To care for your child’s space maintainer, they should:
- Practice proper oral hygiene
- Consume a healthy, balanced diet that limits sugary and acidic items
- Visit their dental professional regularly (at least twice a year) to stay ahead of potential problems
When your child gets a space maintainer, this period can be a tremendous opportunity to establish healthy habits that could persist into young adulthood and for the rest of their life. This could save them discomfort from dental issues and save you from developing pain from reaching for your wallet. You’re now informed on what space maintainers do, what varieties they come in, and why they’re a cost-effective choice.