Children's baby teeth play an important role in the development and placement of their adult teeth. Typically, each baby tooth sits in a slot that will ultimately hold an adult tooth, maintaining its position. When a baby tooth falls out naturally, this leaves a space for the adult tooth to come through.  

However, things may not always go according to plan if children lose their baby teeth early. According to the Better Health Channel, early tooth loss may cause spacing problems, as other teeth may move into the gap and prevent the adult tooth from coming through as it should. If your dentist thinks that this may be a problem, you may be offered a space maintainer. These devices straddle the gap between teeth, keeping it open until the adult tooth is ready to erupt.

When Do Dentists Recommend Space Maintainers?

The decision whether or not to use a space maintainer depends on a variety of factors. For example, dentists may recommend a spacer in the following circumstances:

  • If there is too much time between the loss of a baby tooth and the eruption time of its adult replacement, other teeth may change position to compensate for the gap. This may reduce the gap's size, making it harder for the permanent tooth to erupt correctly, and may change the position of other baby teeth. Your dentist may use a space maintainer to keep the gap open and encourage adjacent teeth to stay in their positions.
  • Some people don't have a regular set of permanent teeth ready to come through after their baby teeth fall out. If your child doesn't have a permanent tooth under a lost baby tooth, your dentist may use a spacer to maintain tooth placement until your child is older and can have a denture or bridge fitted.

When Is a Space Maintainer Not Needed?

In some cases, your dentist may feel that a space maintainer isn't necessary. For example, your child may not need spacing help in the following circumstances:

  • Children don't need space maintainers for teeth at the front of the mouth. Surrounding teeth aren't likely to move to fill gaps in this position.
  • If your child's permanent tooth under the lost baby tooth is likely to come through soon, your child may not have problems with tooth movement.

Bear in mind that your dentist may decide to watch the gap for a while before using a maintainer. This typically involves measuring the gap during check-ups to make sure that other teeth aren't moving across it. If teeth don't move, your child may not need a spacer.