Baby teeth are supposed to fall out, but sometimes a child may lose a tooth before their adult teeth are ready to grow in. While it might not seem like a big problem at the moment, it can lead to more problems if not maintained properly. Dentists can place devices called space maintainers in your child’s mouth to ensure that their adult teeth will grow in properly.

If your child has lost a tooth prematurely, you should schedule a visit with your child’s pediatric dentist. They can examine your child’s mouth and tooth structure and then tell you if your child needs a space maintainer.

What is a Space Maintainer in Dentistry?

Dental space maintainers are devices used to leave enough space open for permanent teeth to grow in after baby teeth are lost prematurely. While it might not seem like a big problem at first, not taking care of a gap can lead to expensive problems down the road.

There are many reasons that lead to premature loss of baby teeth including, trauma, congenital defects, accidents, or decay. Depending on your child’s situation, your dentist will recommend a different type of space maintainer.

Young Asian girl with one missing tooth and holding the tooth that fell out.

What Are the Different Types of Space Maintainers?

There are two general categories of pediatric space maintainers and within these categories, there are different types of maintainers.


In general, a fixed space maintainer is a semi-permanent tooth fixture that keeps enough space open for the adult tooth to grow in. After the permanent tooth has grown in, the maintainer can be removed.

There are four types of fixed space maintainers that a pediatric dentist can use to care for your child’s teeth. These different types are crown and loop, distal shoe, lingual, and unilateral.

Crown and Loop

These devices include a crown placed over one tooth and a stainless steel wire loop. The loop presses against the tooth on the other side of the gap and keeps the gap open. Once the new tooth grows in properly, the crown can be removed.

Distal Shoe

This type of maintainer is only used for permanent first molars that have not grown in yet. The drawback is that these maintainers require more care and attention from your child’s dentist. 

These maintainers are usually inserted into the gum line after a baby molar falls out prematurely. The device then guides the unerupted adult molar as it grows in. If your child needs this type of maintainer, you will need to schedule periodic check-ups to make sure the treatment is working properly. 


These maintainers use wire and crowns to maintain spacing across several tooth gaps. In pediatric dentistry, we usually use these devices if a child is missing teeth due to a congenital defect.


This treatment uses a wire to maintain space between two teeth, similar to a crown and loop treatment. However, unilateral maintainers use a wire that is wrapped around the teeth on either side of the gap.


A removable space maintainer can be a good option if your child’s tooth is almost ready to grow in. These devices are similar to ones used in orthodontic treatments and can be customized for your child’s needs.

Usually, these devices are made of acrylic material and can be fitted with a fake tooth. These maintainers also make it easier for your child to keep good oral hygiene habits, such as brushing and flossing.

However, removable devices are usually not as effective at maintaining space as fixed devices.

If you have any questions about which type of maintainer is right for your child, please ask us during your next visit.

Are Space Maintainers Really Necessary?

One important function of a baby tooth is to reserve space for the adult tooth. If a baby tooth falls out prematurely, the empty space may cause adult teeth to become crooked as they grow in. 

The body is usually good at maintaining enough space, but every case is different. If your child has lost a tooth prematurely, consult with a pediatric dentist about your child’s needs.

Visit AC Dentistry

If you’re looking for a pediatric dentist in Nashville, visit Associate Children’s Dentistry. We specialize in providing pediatric dental care in a fun, friendly, and comfortable environment for parents and children. 

We also have other offices throughout central Tennessee, including Mt Juliet, Goodlettsville, and our new office in Bordeaux.

A little boy showing that he lost his tooth and that an adult tooth is growing in.

What are the advantages of pediatric dentistry?

Taking your child to a pediatric dentist’s office has many benefits that make dental care easier. As pediatric specialists, we have received between two and three years of additional training that helps us create a comfortable environment for children. Our extra years of training also help us interact with children that have special needs.

Additional Dental Services

In addition to placing dental space maintainers, we offer several other services for children that include:

  • Sealants
  • Dental Fillings
  • Crossbite correction
  • Stainless steel crowns
  • Pulpotomies