Baby teeth are not only useful for eating and talking, they also serve as guides for permanent teeth. Baby teeth are vital to a child’s future dental health and can help permanent teeth to grow in properly. If a baby tooth comes out prematurely, adjacent teeth may try to move into the space left by the missing tooth. This leaves no room for the future permanent teeth to erupt.
Some children will lose one or more baby teeth to decay or injury. Injured teeth can fall out on their own and teeth with decay may need to be removed to prevent infection if they don’t fall out on their own. Parents need not worry if their child loses a tooth. Appliances called space maintainers can be used to protect the space. There are a few varieties of space maintainers but all will preserve the gap until the eruption of permanent teeth. Pediatric dentists tend to prefer fixed space maintainers rather than removable for children so that they cannot be lost and will be consistently worn.
Space maintainers are made custom for your child’s mouth to ensure a comfortable fit. If the space maintainer is only replacing one tooth, the appliance can often be made fairly quickly, while children who have multiple missing teeth will require more measurements and a more tailored fit.
While a child is wearing a space maintainer, it is important to continue with good oral health habits like consistent brushing and flossing. Continuing to brush and floss as normal will help with irritation that space maintainers can cause. If gums are irritated by the appliance, saltwater rinses or using mouthwash can help kill bacteria and assist with healing gums.
Pediatric dentists will continue to check if a permanent tooth is erupting at your child’s 6 month check ups, but if you or your child notice the tooth erupting in between check ups, call your dentist’s office to schedule an appointment. The dentist can take a look and determine the proper timing for removing the space maintainer.
While parents may be tempted to ignore missing baby teeth, the best course of action is to speak to your pediatric dentist. They can help determine if a space maintainer is the right course of treatment for your child. Maintaining that space now can allow for proper growth in the future and may save you both time and money!