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How Spacers Space Maintainers Look In Your Child's Mouth
©Jaimie Duplass/

A few months ago, I wrote an article detailing why it would be necessary for a child to get a space maintainer.  A space maintainer is commonly referred to as simply a spacer.

A Child That Has Lost a Tooth PrematurelyIn the picture to the left, you can see how the lower teeth of a six year old child might appear with a missing baby tooth — the first molar.  Let’s say that this kid didn’t brush his teeth a lot and ended up needing his first molar extracted because of a large cavity that couldn’t be fixed.

If the dentist simply removed that tooth and sent the child home, that kid’s permanent tooth would probably never come in!

Under normal circumstances, all of the teeth in the mouth exert pressure on each other, which holds them in their proper position. When a tooth is lost, the teeth next to the lost tooth will move into the lost space since the lost tooth can no longer exert its pressure on the adjacent teeth. Also, the teeth above the lost tooth will erupt a little more to fill in the space below.

The picture below shows what happens if a space maintainer is not placed after a baby tooth gets extracted.

Tooth Loss - The Space Fills In
When a tooth is lost, the teeth around it are eager to fill in the empty space

Why Teeth Move

Many people wonder why teeth want to move to fill in the gap when a neighboring tooth is extracted.  Here’s an analogy to illustrate why teeth move.

Large CrowdLet’s say there’s a giant crowd of people waiting in line for the chance to read the latest article on Oral Answers.  Now suppose that one person decides he’s sick and tired of waiting and decides to leave.  When he leaves, there is a small opening in the crowd where he used to be excitedly waiting.  Does the crowd leave that space open?  No!  The people that were waiting right next to the space where that guy used to be waiting move to fill it in the empty space that he left behind.

That’s pretty much how it works in the mouth.  When there’s an empty space, teeth move to fill it in.

A Space Maintainer Maintains The Old Space

A space maintainer will conserve the space left by the extracted tooth.  That way, when the permanent tooth starts to grow into the mouth, there will be lots of room for it to fit in perfectly.

Here’s a space maintainer that I made during my pediatric dentistry lab earlier this year.

A Birds Eye View of a Space Maintainer - Spacer
Here is a top view of a band and loop space maintainer.

Here’s another view:

A Dental Space Maintainer - Spacer
A side view of a space maintainer. This is how the space maintainer would look if you were sitting on the inside of your child’s cheek.


If a space maintainer is not used, the jaw may never grow to its full potential and consequently it might not have room for all of the permanent teeth, necessitating the removal of some teeth along with orthodontic treatment (braces).

Do you have any questions or comments about space maintainers (spacers)?  Leave them in the comments below and I’ll get back with you!

Spacer Space Maintainer Teeth
©Tatyana Vyc/

Whenever a tooth is lost, the teeth on either side of it move towards the empty space to try to fill it in.

SA Red Headed Boy with Baby Teethometimes 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!)