Your child's baby teeth might be little, but they have some big responsibilities. Until the adolescent years, they will not only help your youngster bite and chew (i.e. get proper nutrition) and speak correctly, but also help guide the permanent teeth underneath into proper position. In fact, a major function of baby teeth is to hold space for the adult teeth that will eventually push them out.
At least, that's how it's supposed to work. Unfortunately, sometimes injury or disease can cause a baby tooth to be lost prematurely. When this happens, there is no baby tooth to reserve space for the adult tooth, and the permanent teeth that are coming in on either side can shift into that space. As a result, the adult tooth that was supposed to be there is either blocked entirely or forced to erupt out of position, leading to crowded or crooked teeth.
How to Save Space
If your child loses a tooth prematurely, there are dental appliances your DuPont pediatric dentist can use to hold a space open for the permanent tooth beneath until it grows in. These devices are called “space maintainers” or “space maintenance appliances.” Made of metal and/or plastic, Dr. Takenaka can provide your child with space maintainers that are fixed (cemented) or removable. Whichever you choose, their purpose remains the same: help your child develop the best bite possible and hopefully avoid the need for braces later on.
Types of Space Maintainers
Fixed space maintenance appliances are cemented onto the teeth adjacent to the space your child’s dentist is working to reserve. This is the preferred type of space maintainer for children because, unlike removable appliances, fixed appliances are less easy to fidget with, break, or misplace. Fixed space maintainers come in several different designs. One consists of a band that goes around a tooth and then a wire loop that extends out from the band to hold the open space. Another version features a loop attached to a stainless steel crown, which goes over a nearby tooth. In either case, the loop extends just to the point where it touches the next tooth.
Removable appliances look like the type of retainer worn at the end of orthodontic treatment. Such an appliance can have a false tooth on it, which is particularly useful when the lost tooth was visible in the mouth. Older children can typically handle the responsibility of wearing a removable appliance and caring for it properly.
Wearing a Space Maintainer
Whether fixed or removable, your child's space maintainer will be custom-made either while your child is sitting in the dental chair or after our pediatric dentist takes impressions of his or her mouth. Your child will wear a space maintainer until x-rays reveal that the tooth underneath is ready to erupt naturally. It is very important that any patient wearing a space maintainer keeps up good oral hygiene at home and comes in for regular professional dental cleanings in our DuPont office.
Space maintainers are also useful when one or more permanent teeth are missing, which can happen if the permanent tooth never existed at all because it didn’t develop or if a tooth was lost prematurely due to non-restorability or in an accident. In cases like this, permanent dental implants are often recommended for adolescents or adults. However, timing is very important with dental implants; they can't be placed in the mouth of a growing child. Therefore, your dentist might use a space maintainer with a false tooth on it until jaw growth is complete, and then place an implant appropriately. This is a simple, non-invasive procedure that can help patients avoid developing malocclusions (bad bites).
Call Children's Dentistry of DuPont at (253) 244-9778 for more information.