Dental space maintainers are used to keep space along the gum line open in children who have lost a baby tooth before a permanent tooth is ready to emerge. It may also be used when a permanent tooth is missing altogether. This appliance allows teeth to emerge naturally into a space without making surrounding teeth crooked, or allows the dentist to keep space open while a more permanent replacement tooth is made.
Space maintainers are made out of either plastic or stainless steel. There are several different kinds of space maintainers, each with its own unique advantages. A dentist will recommend the best one based upon situation, a child’s ability to care for their appliance, and the frequency of dental visits. The two main categories available are removable and fixed space maintainers.
Removable space maintainers are just that: removable. They are similar to some retainers in that they are worn throughout the day and night except for meals. An artificial tooth or plastic tooth may be used to fill the gap of the missing tooth, particularly when this gap is in a prominent location. Removable space maintainers are generally recommended for older children, as they require some maintenance.
Fixed space retainers vary more in use and specific function than removable maintainers. Band-and-loop maintainers use a stainless steel loop to keep space along the gum line open for an erupting tooth. This steel loop is secured by a neighboring tooth.
In cases where multiple back teeth have been lost on either side of the lower jaw a lingual arch space retainer will be used. Bands are wrapped around teeth located behind the missing teeth. A steel wire is then run along the back of the teeth of the lower jaw, connecting the two bands and keeping space open for new teeth.
A distal shoe appliance is used when there are no surrounding teeth on which to secure a band. These need to be checked often to prevent complications with emerging teeth Partial dentures are an option for children who are missing multiple teeth throughout their mouth.