What is a Dental Space Maintainer?

Team Orthodontics, Pediatric Dentistry

If your child has a gap in their smile, we may recommend that they get a dental space maintainer. If you’ve never heard of this dental appliance before, you’re not alone! Many parents wonder what space maintainers are and why they’re needed. Read on to find out the answers to all of your questions!

Why Space Maintainers Are Needed

Baby teeth play an important role in your child’s dental health. They help them eat the healthy, wholesome foods that allow their bodies to thrive, they’re essential to speech development, and they hold space for the adult teeth. This last point is important—we’ll get back to it in a minute!

While adult teeth can sometimes be put back in the socket if they’re knocked out, we can’t do that with a baby tooth because they lack the long root of a permanent tooth. Other times, a tooth may be severely fractured after an injury, or it may need to be extracted due to deep decay. Whatever the reason, sometimes baby teeth don’t last as long as we’d like them to, which is why space maintainers are needed.

Without a space maintainer, the teeth surrounding the newly opened space will begin to drift into it. This might not seem like a big deal—after all, won’t those baby teeth fall out eventually too?—but it can cause a domino effect of increasingly serious orthodontic issues, especially if a tooth is lost very early. The shifted teeth can block the adult teeth from erupting when the time comes. Crowding and misalignments can develop, requiring orthodontic treatment.

Space maintainers are not a guarantee that your child won’t need braces since there are many other factors at play, but they are an affordable way to minimize orthodontic issues and treatment times. We generally recommend space maintainers for children who lose their teeth well before we expect a permanent tooth to erupt; this age is different for different children, so we’ll look at their dental history and the age that they began teething to determine if a space maintainer is needed.

Types of Space Maintainers

Space maintainers can be either fixed in place or removable. A removable space maintainer is an acrylic dental appliance that can be taken out when needed. 

Within the category of fixed space maintainers are a few different options, but what they all have in common is that they can only be removed by your child’s dentist or orthodontist. A distal shoe extends just beneath the gumline to hold place for molars to erupt. Crown and loop (also known as band and loop) space maintainers involve a stainless steel wire that is held by a crown or band on the tooth next to the open space. Lingual holding arches are often used when multiple teeth have been lost early.

Caring for a Space Maintainer

No matter the type of space maintainer your child receives, caring for it properly is important. Plaque can build up on the space maintainer, and food can become stuck in or around it, creating the perfect environment for bacteria to multiply. We’ll provide you with care and maintenance instructions, which will vary depending on the type of space maintainer your child receives.

Learn More About Space Maintainers 

If you’d like to learn more about space maintainers or you’re wondering if your child might benefit from space maintenance, contact us today to schedule a consultation with one of our dentists.