Does Your Child Need a Space Maintainer - Everything You Need to Know

Clinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
Last Modified:

Table of Contents

  1. When Are Space Maintainers Used?
  2. Types of Space Maintainers
  3. Do They Hurt?
  4. Costs
  5. Is It Worth It?
  6. Care Instructions
  7. References

Usually when a child loses a baby tooth, the adult tooth comes in shortly afterwards. But if a child loses a baby tooth prematurely, however, it could be months or years before the associated adult tooth erupts in its place. When situations like this occur, dentists often recommend a space maintainer.

As the name suggests, a space maintainer prevents neighboring teeth from shifting into the gap created by a missing baby tooth. It ensures that when the adult tooth does erupt, enough room for it exists in the mouth. Carving out space for the adult, even a long time before it comes in, prevents issues like overcrowding and impacted teeth.

When Are Space Maintainers Used?

Dentists most often turn to space maintainers used when a child prematurely loses a baby tooth because of a trauma or an accident. For example, if your 3-year-old knocks a tooth out after stumbling and falling on a sidewalk, the dentist will likely recommend a space maintainer.

Dental professionals also like to use space maintainers if a child loses a baby tooth to decay. Baby bottle tooth decay, a condition in which constant exposure to the sugars in milk leads to severe tooth decay, sometimes makes it necessary for a dentist to extract a badly decayed baby tooth. The dentist may insert a space maintainer in its place.

Another situation in which space maintainers play a role in long-term oral care is for children born with missing baby teeth. The maintainer can help keep in place the baby teeth your child does have so that the adult teeth later erupt in the proper spots in the mouth.

Types of Space Maintainers

Your child's dentist will assess the teeth and determine which of the following types of space maintainers best fit their needs.

Fixed Space Maintainers

Fixed space maintainers are semi-permanent appliances that remain in your child's mouth until the adult tooth grows in. There are a few different sub-types of fixed space maintainers:

  • Crown and Loop: The tooth on one side of the gap is fitted for a crown. The crown has a stainless steel loop that pushes on the tooth on the other side of the gap.

  • Distal Shoe: Used for back molars, these devices are inserted along the gumline to prevent the neighboring teeth from shifting and to guide the adult tooth into place.

  • Lingual: Children who are missing several teeth in a row can be fitted for this type. A crown is placed over one tooth. A wire extends from the crown, along the tongue side of the gap, towards the other teeth to hold them in place.

  • Unilateral: This type of space maintainer is basically a wire that wraps around the teeth on either side of the gap.

Removable Space Maintainers

A removable space maintainer typically consists of a wire to place pressure on the existing teeth, plus a false tooth to replace the missing one. Your child can pop the removable device out in order to brush and floss their teeth. Usually, these are prescribed for children who are expected to get their new adult tooth rather soon.

Do Space Maintainers Hurt?

While it may take your child a few days to get used to a space maintainer, they should experience any pain. Giving your child soft foods for the first few days after they get their space maintainer can make it easier for them to adapt.

How Much Do Space Maintainers Cost?

Costs vary by region, and they also depend on what type of space maintainer your child needs. In general, you can expect to pay between $200 and $400 to have a space maintainer put in place. Dental insurance often covers all or part of the cost since the procedure is considered preventative care.

Is Getting a Space Maintainer Worth It?

If your child's dentist recommends a space maintainer, it is absolutely worth it. A space maintainer will help your child's adult teeth erupt properly, reducing the need for orthodontic care later on. Straight, properly aligned teeth are easier to keep clean, and they promote proper speech development.

Space maintainers can also prevent an adult tooth from becoming impacted, which could be very painful and require surgery.

How Do You Care for a Space Maintainer?

Children with space maintainers can brush and floss their teeth as usual. They can eat a normal diet, except for the chewiest, crunchiest and stickiest of foods. Your child will need to see the dentist for periodic checkups to ensure the space maintainer is functioning as it should, but these checkups are routine and should take only a few minutes.

Space maintainers are important preventative care for children who prematurely lose one or more baby teeth. If your pediatric dentist recommends one, know that they simply want what's best for your child's future dental health.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.