Primary teeth are very important for the healthy development of permanent teeth further in life. Unfortunately, many parents treat primary tooth as disposable, but this is a wrong viewpoint to have.
Children who experience premature primary tooth loss are at an increased risk of developing orthodontic deformations further in life, when they begin growing their permanent teeth. Healthy primary teeth are the best way of ensuring that the permanent teeth grow healthy.
The risk of such orthodontic malocclusions can be reduced by acting as soon as possible, and early treatment is often enough to prevent the possibility of malocclusion or crooked teeth. The best way of preventing any problems from occurring is to treat the teeth themselves; i.e. to remove cavities and deal with impaction.
However, sometimes it is simply not possible to save a tooth, usually due to severe caries, and other options must be considered. Empty spaces in the mouth are dangerous as they impede the development of the jawline and muscles that keep the teeth in their right positions.
Because of that, space maintainers are sometimes used, and to very good success. Space maintainers are dental appliances that are used to “fill the void” left by the removed tooth in order to keep the dental structure as a whole intact.
Space maintainers are not for everyone and not every child who loses their teeth will need them. Your dentist will be able to tell if your child would benefit from space maintainers. Children with many missing teeth could easily be better off with removable dentures instead. Front teeth especially don’t necessitate such treatment, as the hole should be persistent enough not to affect the development of permanent front teeth.
There are several types of space maintainers.
We can broadly classify them in a few categories, as either fixed or removable and unilateral or bilateral. Fixed, as the name says, cannot be removed, while the removable are easy to remove and put back on. Fixed maintainers consist of a looped band that fills the space and is fixed to an adjacent tooth.
Bilateral space maintainers are fixed to both sides of the mouth, while unilateral to just one. The unilateral maintainers usually keep space open for just one tooth. Bilateral maintainers are usually more complex and are used when there is a need to keep space for more teeth.
Most users of space maintainers are 4 to 9 years of age. Space maintainers are custom-made by your orthodontist. Removable appliances require impressions to be made. Fixed maintainers are usually adjusted by fitting the bands. Space maintainers can be made either of metal (usually when fixed) and acrylic (removable maintainers).
Some discomfort is expected in the first few days while wearing the appliance. However, the discomfort should be temporary and subside soon. If not, it’s likely that the appliance hasn’t been fitted well enough and needs refitting.
Complications can arise, and when they do, it’s mostly because of bad dental hygiene and infrequent checkups. It’s important that your child brushes the area well, as otherwise they are exposing themselves to risk of gingivitis. In some cases, gum tissue can grow over the wire and cause inflammation. If the bands come off, it can pose a choking hazard. This is usually rare and thus not a major risk. Teach your child not to play with the maintainers and touch it, as it may damage it.
The maintainer can be removed when the teeth has almost completely erupted. Your dentist will usually monitor the progress using X-rays in combination with regular check-ups.
Space maintainers can also be used in case a permanent tooth is missing, as a temporary measure until an implant, a bridge or a crown is fitted. This occurs mostly in adolescents, as their teeth are still growing and such operations may cause damage to other teeth.
Space maintainers can save thousands in orthodontic bills for problems that would appear further in life that they prevent. They are well-tolerated by children and do not pose many risks. It is a very cost-effective treatment that can save both you and your child a lot of headaches in the next ten years.
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