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Space maintainers are temporary devices that are used to help maintain adequate spacing between two teeth when the one between them has been removed. They’re used on pediatric patients who require dental extractions, due to their ability to reduce complications like impacted adult teeth.
How a Space Maintainer Works
Baby teeth are natural spacers and guides for the permanent teeth that will one day replace them. Any time a tooth is extracted, it no longer acts as a placeholder. If they fall out because of an injury or have to be extracted prematurely, the adult tooth isn’t quite yet ready to erupt into their place. Instead, a lack of support in that area can cause the neighboring teeth to drift inward. When they do, the block off or impact the adult tooth that’s supposed to be there one day. Additionally, their misalignment can also affect their permanent counterparts and the surrounding bite.
To prevent this complicated scenario from happening, our dentist will place a space maintainer after the applicable tooth is extracted. Space maintainers are temporary devices that span the width of the extracted tooth and press against the teeth on either side. They make it so that those teeth stay in the appropriate position and do not drift inward. Their job is complete once the adult tooth starts to erupt straight into the appropriate space.
Band and Loops
The most common type of space maintainer is what’s called a “band and loop.” A large circular band slides down and around one of the teeth next to the open space. Out the side of the band, a firm wire loop extends just far enough to reach across the gap and press into the next tooth. Sometimes a small extension will point downward from the loop toward the gums, to help guide the erupt tooth into place appropriately.
Band and loops are usually best for when one of the back teeth are missing. Since the front teeth are some of the first adult teeth to erupt, space maintainers in those spaces are not as common. However, that doesn’t mean they’re completely unnecessary. If your child injures their mouth and one of their front teeth is missing, we may recommend a temporary appliance such as a flipper or special type of bridge to buy time until they one day qualify for something more permanent.
When are Space Maintainers Needed?
A space maintainer is necessary any time a tooth is extracted before it’s normally time for it to exfoliate (naturally fall out.) It’s meant to “buy time” so to speak, so that the developing adult tooth can erupt at a normal pace. Whenever a primary tooth is extracted several months prior to its natural exfoliation pattern — based on other teeth in the mouth — a space maintainer will be necessary.
Investing in a space maintainer can help your family prevent potential orthodontic complications, such as crowding, crossbites, and even a higher risk of cavities. A small, affordable investment can potentially help you save hundreds to thousands of dollars in preventable dental conditions that may not develop for months or even years into the future.
How Long Will Your Child Need to Wear One?
Space maintainers and other appliances such as flippers are used on a temporary basis only. Since they’re installed immediately after an extraction, the plan is to leave them in place until it’s time for the adult tooth to erupt. Chances are you’ll see the gums start to come through the gums just a bit before the device needs to be removed. If the tooth is coming into contact with the band and loop, go ahead and schedule an appointment with our dentist to have it removed.
If You Know Your Child Needs an Extraction…
Perhaps your child has an upcoming extraction planned. It may be that they have a large cavity, untreatable abscess, or the tooth is dying from past oral trauma. If so, be sure to ask about having a space maintainer placed after the tooth is pulled. Don’t put it off until later, because chances are the other teeth will start to move before you realize it. Being proactive about preserving healthy tooth spacing will promote appropriate bite alignment for years to come.
Call Our Office
If you suspect that your child lost a tooth too early, we encourage you to contact us to schedule an exam. The modest time investment can potentially help you avoid more extensive complications in the future. Call (617) 527-6061 or request an appointment online.