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Understanding the importance of dental hygiene from a young age is crucial. At the Center for Pediatric Dental Health, we always advocate for prevention first. Avoiding cavities through great dental hygiene is so helpful in ensuring our kids’ smiles are healthy and strong. But what happens when kids lose teeth prematurely? One solution you might not be aware of is a dental space maintainer. Read on for a comprehensive guide on what dental spacers are and when they are necessary.

What Is a Dental Space Maintainer?

A dental space maintainer (also called a dental spacer) is a device custom-made by a dentist or orthodontist. Its primary purpose is to keep the space open to allow the permanent tooth to erupt and come into place. Basically, it is used to fill the space created when primary teeth are lost prematurely. Dental spacers help prevent the drifting and rotation of adjacent teeth caused by this gap.

When Is It Necessary for Kids?

Kids often lose their baby teeth earlier than usual, either naturally, due to an accident, or because of issues like cavities. In such cases, dental space maintainers help prevent potential spacing problems.

Types of Dental Space Maintainers

There are two types of dental spacers — fixed and removable. While both types serve the same purpose, the best option is determined by the individual child’s needs. Fixed maintainers are durable and easy to use, while removable ones are easy to clean and adjust.

Fixed Dental Space Maintainers

These are non-removable maintainers and are usually made of metal. They are a fantastic option when the child is likely to lose the spacer.

Removable Dental Space Maintainers

These are similar to orthodontic appliances and are typically made from acrylic. They are used when the space to be maintained is large.

Foods to Avoid with a Dental Spacer

When a child has a dental space maintainer, certain dietary precautions should be observed to prevent dislodging or damaging the device. Foods that are sticky or hard, such as caramel, toffee, gum, and hard candies, can adhere to the maintainer or apply excessive pressure, leading to potential damage. Popcorn is also best avoided due to the risk of kernels getting lodged under the maintainer. Similarly, chewy foods like bagels or tough meats can pull at the maintainer. Instead, a diet rich in softer foods and plenty of liquids is recommended to ensure the longevity and effectiveness of the dental spacer.

Caring for Your Child’s Dental Space Maintainer

Just like natural teeth, dental space maintainers need regular cleaning. Many parents struggle to get their kids to brush their teeth consistently. If that sounds like your family, check out our blog, “The Secret to Getting Your Child to Brush Properly.”

How Long Will My Child Need a Dental Space Maintainer?

How long your child needs to use a dental space maintainer will vary depending on their individual circumstances. The biggest factor is how quickly the permanent tooth is ready to erupt. In some cases, a child may need to wear a dental spacer for only a few months, while in others, it may be several years.

The key is regular dental check-ups, where your child’s dentist can monitor the progress of the permanent tooth’s eruption. Once the tooth is ready to come in, the dental space maintainer can be removed.

What Happens If My Child’s Spacer Falls Out?

If your child’s spacer falls out, contact our office right away. The spacer plays a crucial role in maintaining the space for the permanent tooth to erupt, and without it, the other teeth may start to move into the empty space, potentially leading to alignment issues.

Your pediatric dentist will likely schedule an appointment to evaluate the situation and determine if the spacer needs to be replaced. In the mean time, try to keep the spacer safe and bring it along to your appointment. It’s also a good idea to encourage your child to avoid chewy and hard foods that could exacerbate any potential shifting of the teeth.

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