Whenever a tooth is lost, the teeth on either side of it move towards the empty space to try to fill it in.
Sometimes this can be a good thing, like if your orthodontist has to extract a tooth due to crowding. After the tooth is extracted, the teeth adjacent to it move together and line up perfectly to create a beautiful smile.
Other times, this movement can be a bad thing. Let’s say a little boy named Johnny with baby teeth and his six year molars lost his baby second molar (the second tooth from the back after the six year molars have come in) because he had too many cavities in it and it was too far decayed to try to put a filling in it. The six year molar (the last tooth – at the very back of the mouth) would move forward to fill that space.
The problem is, Johnny has a permanent tooth right under that baby second molar that may not be able to come into his mouth if the six year molar has moved forward to fill that space. This permanent tooth may give up trying to come up into Johnny’s mouth and may never come into his mouth, but just stay lodged deep within his jaw. It could also try to force its way out sideways and cause big problems for Johnny (and his parents who are paying the bill!)
This is where space maintainers (spacers) come into play – they keep teeth from moving together and filling the empty space.
How Dental Space Maintainers (Spacers) Work
A space maintainer consists of one or two stainless steel crowns or bands that attach to the teeth and hold a bar or wire loop between them that prevents the teeth from moving toward each other into the empty space. This provides a force that keeps the two teeth from coming together. It’s kind of like an overprotective father following his daughter on her first date to the movies with a cute boy and sitting between them – he will block the natural forces that attract them to each other and prevent them from moving together and filling the empty space between them.
With a nice open space in the child’s mouth, the permanent tooth that is still deep within the jaw will happily erupt into the welcoming space waiting for it.
Do All Prematurely Lost Baby Teeth Need Space Maintainers?
Not all prematurely lost baby teeth will need space maintainers. If the permanent tooth will be coming in shortly, then it is probably not necessary. A dentist is able to take x-rays of your child’s mouth and determine about how long it will be before the permanent tooth will come in.
Also, spacers are usually not necessary when kids’ incisors (the front four teeth) are prematurely lost because there is rarely any space loss that occurs in this front area.
It is important to note that when kids naturally lose their teeth, there is no need for a space maintainer. Space maintainers are only necessary when a baby tooth has been prematurely lost. For example, if the tooth was knocked out in an accident or the tooth had to be pulled because it was too decayed to be saved.
What If the Teeth Have Started Moving Together Already
Fortunately, there is something called a space regainer, that has springs and can push the teeth away from each other to create a big enough space for the permanent tooth to erupt into the mouth. Luckily, most dentists know that a space maintainer is necessary and will put one in when indicated.
If you have any questions about space maintainers, type them in the comments. Thanks for reading!