Space Holders

Baby teeth aren't just for chewing. Each one also acts as a guide for the eruption of the permanent tooth that replaces it. If a baby tooth is lost too early, the permanent tooth loses its guide. It can drift or erupt into the wrong position in the mouth. Neighboring teeth also can move or tilt into the space. This means that there may not be enough space for the permanent tooth to come in.

Dentists call baby teeth primary or deciduous teeth. Primary teeth can be lost too early for several reasons:

  • They can be knocked out in a fall or other accident.
  • They may need to be extracted because of severe decay that causes infection.
  • They may be missing at birth.
  • Some diseases or conditions can lead to early tooth loss.

In those cases where the loss of a child's primary tooth can't be avoided, and their dental development is at a stage where their dentist feels that it is important that its space must be preserved, a dental space holder or space maintainer can be placed.

As long as the maintainer is in place, neighboring teeth can't shift into the space formerly occupied by the baby tooth and its replacement tooth will be able to erupt in normal fashion. This simple device can prevent the need for major corrective treatment (such as braces).

Space maintainers are usually made from plastic or stainless steel. Some can be removed, while others will be cemented into the mouth. Removable space maintainers will look much like a regular retainer. It may also have artificial teeth to fill in the spaces. Usually, this type of space maintainer is used for the sake of appearance as well as to allow permanent teeth to erupt. Unfortunately, your child may not be able to have a removable retainer if he/she does not follow instructions reliably.

If your child needs a fixed space maintainer, a metal band will be put around teeth adjacent to the space that needs to remain open. Your child's dentist will them make an impression of the teeth in order to create the space maintainer. From there, the band and the models will be sent to a laboratory, where the retainer will be constructed. Once your dentist receives the space maintainer, he/she will cement it into your child's mouth. Depending on the resources at the dentist office, a space maintainer can be created and applied all in one visit