Space maintainers are a type of dental prosthetic used to fill in gaps between the teeth caused by the premature loss of baby teeth. While baby teeth are meant to fall out naturally as your child grows, losing a baby tooth too early can cause serious oral development problems when the adult teeth start to come out.
If your child loses a tooth early due to an oral injury, an infection, or any other such issue, Dr. Julia and Dr. Chun at Cavity Patrol Pediatric Dentistry may recommend that they get a space maintainer to ensure proper development of the adult teeth.
Kids usually start losing their baby teeth around the age of 6, starting with the front teeth. The molars are the last baby teeth to fall out, typically around the age of 12!
Teeth shifting can occur even with baby teeth. When a tooth is lost, the nearby teeth tend to move toward the empty socket to “fill” the gap. This can cause oral development issues and bite problems.
The baby teeth form the “paths” that your child’s adult teeth will follow as they begin to develop and emerge. This means that if your child loses a baby tooth prematurely and the teeth shift, this can impair the proper eruption of the adult tooth. With a space maintainer, you avoid this issue.
Because the teeth will erupt properly and your child’s baby teeth won’t shift, this reduces the risk of oral development problems that may otherwise require treatment with orthodontics like braces.
In some cases, Dr. Julia or Dr. Chun may recommend a biopsy of a particular piece of tissue to check for the presence of cancer. This process is fast and pain-free for your child.
Space maintainers work by filling up the gap where your child’s missing tooth used to be. They are usually made of plastic or metal. One side of the space maintainer is wrapped around one of your child’s teeth to hold it in place, and the other side rests on top of the gap in your child’s smile and presses against the opposite tooth.
By placing a small amount of pressure and blocking the adjacent teeth from moving, a space maintainer allows the underlying adult tooth to develop properly. Maintaining the proper gap between your child’s remaining teeth minimizes the risk of future complications as their mouth develops.
Your child will need to keep a space maintainer until their permanent tooth begins to erupt in the area below the space maintainer. During your child’s six-month preventive visits to Cavity Patrol Pediatric Dentistry, Dr. Julia or Dr. Chun will check on the progress of the underlying tooth.
If it’s about to emerge or has already begun to come out, the space maintainer will be removed. The emerging adult tooth will come out in the proper position and will keep the adjacent teeth from shifting, so there’s no more need for a space maintainer.
Oral cancer is extremely rare in kids. While we perform routine cancer screenings at our office, it’s rare for pediatric patients to get this disease. If your child does have oral cancer, you will need to see a pediatric oncologist (cancer specialist). Treatment may involve surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy depending on the case.
Oral cancer is the most common in patients who are 40+ years of age, but can affect anyone regardless of age.