When a child reaches the sixth or seventh grade, one of the most common dental topics parents discuss is whether their son or daughter will need orthodontic braces. Braces are an important part of modern dental care in that they straighten teeth and can help bring the lips and jaws into proper alignment during growth and development. They also represent a considerable expense (several thousand dollars) and require about two years of treatment for the child. Often, it is the family or pediatric (children only) dentist who has cared for the child since age one or two who can have a big impact over his or her upcoming dental needs. One treatment that may reduce or eliminate the need for braces in the future is a space maintainer.
Regularly used in pediatric dentistry, a space maintainer is a device that saves room in the mouth for the adult teeth when a child experiences premature baby tooth loss. Ideally, baby teeth should be preserved until the adult teeth push them out naturally. Baby teeth are important for a child to eat comfortably and also to save space for the adult teeth. When they must be removed due to extensive cavities or injury, a space maintainer is usually necessary. Space maintainers can be either permanent or removable. Although there are many types of space maintainers, one commonly used is called the band and loop.
The procedure to make a band and loop space maintainer is relatively simple. The dentist takes a mold of the child's mouth. A laboratory then makes the space maintainer, which consists of two parts. There is a band that fits around the tooth behind the missing one, and a loop or brace that goes over the gum where the missing tooth was and then rests against a tooth in front of it. When the band is cemented on the tooth, it prevents the teeth from moving into the space where the missing tooth was, and allows the adult tooth enough space to grow into the proper position. The space maintainer should then be evaluated by the dentist during regular dental exams and should be removed when the adult teeth are visible and have poked through the gum.
Space maintainers are necessary when baby teeth are lost prematurely, usually up until a year or so before the adult tooth comes in. The decision of when to place a space maintainer is up to your dentist, but their use can sometimes reduce or eliminate the need for braces in the future.
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