Baby teeth play a vital role in guiding the eruption of permanent teeth. Although they are supposed to fall out eventually, the premature loss of baby teeth can allow the remaining teeth to shift and disrupt the path for permanent teeth to set in. This can adversely affect the development of your child’s occlusion through crowding, impaction, tipping of teeth (drifting), and altered median lines.
Respectively, family dentists may recommend the use of an intra-oral appliance to preserve arch length and prevent unwanted tooth movement following the untimely loss of one or more baby teeth. This dental tool is known as a space maintainer, and it allows permanent teeth to erupt without any hindrances into proper alignment and occlusion.
Types of space maintainers
Space maintainers are custom-made in a dental lab using acrylic or metal material. They can be either fixed or removable.
1. Removable space maintainers
They are mostly used when the permanent tooth is almost ready to grow in. These devices are made of acrylic material and fitted with an artificial tooth. They make it easy to maintain proper oral hygiene.
2. Fixed space maintainers
These are semi-permanent devices that are cemented to adjacent teeth, such that they can only be removed by the dentist after the adult tooth has grown in. The four common types of fixed space maintainers are:
- Band and loop – It’s mainly used in cases that involve a single tooth loss. Comprises a band or crown placed around one of the teeth adjacent to the gap and a wire loop made from stainless steel that forms a cantilevered loop on the other side of the gap to keep it open. It can be removed when the new tooth grows in properly.
- Unilateral – The treatment is similar to the band and loop approach, but the wire is wrapped around the teeth on either side of the gap.
- Distal shoe– One of the metal ends is inserted into the gum line where the first permanent molar tooth will grow in to maintain the space.
- Lingual – Used to maintain the space for multiple teeth. It’s a bilateral device that’s cemented to molar teeth, with a wire connecting it on the inside of the lower incisor teeth.
Does your child need space maintainers?
If your child loses one or multiple teeth prematurely, you should consult with your pediatric dentist immediately to determine whether space maintainers are necessary. Timely intervention can ensure the proper growth of your child’s permanent teeth and eliminate the need for costly orthodontic treatment later on.