Children need their space. You may have heard that before in another context, but it’s literally true when we’re talking about teeth. Sometime between the ages of 5 and 13, your child will lose 20 baby teeth and gain 28 permanent teeth. Each of those adult teeth needs a specific amount of space to grow in correctly. Yet there are a couple of things that can crowd in on that space and create potential problems in the bite. Let’s take a look at what they are, and how the right dental treatment at the right time can solve the problem.
Premature Loss of Baby Teeth
Sometimes a baby tooth is lost too early: It may be knocked out in an accident, or become too decayed to save. Some parents might feel this is no big deal, given that baby teeth are not permanent anyway. But actually, it’s a very big deal. For one thing, your children need all of their baby teeth to eat comfortably and speak properly—and they will need them for many years. Secondly, the baby teeth have another job that many people are not aware of: They hold the correct amount of space for the permanent teeth that will replace them.
If a baby tooth is lost prematurely, that empty space might not stay open long enough to accommodate the tooth that’s meant to grow into it. Why not? Because teeth are not actually rigidly fixed in the bone that surrounds them—they can move very gradually in response to the forces at work on them all the time, such as the pressure from biting and chewing. If there’s a gap in your child’s smile, those forces might cause some of the neighboring teeth to shift into the empty space that is meant for a specific adult tooth. What happens next is that the adult tooth meets resistance from those neighboring teeth as it’s growing in, and it shifts out of alignment.
How can this be prevented? Children who lose a baby tooth prematurely are often fitted with a device called a space maintainer. This often takes the form of a metal band that fits over a tooth adjacent to the empty space, with a wire loop extending across the gap and resting against the tooth on the other side. Sometimes, a crown (artificial tooth) attached to an adjacent tooth may also be used to fill the gap. In either case, your child’s dentist will remove the space maintainer when the permanent tooth erupts.
Inadequate Jaw Size
Sometimes there isn’t enough space for permanent teeth to grow in simply because of heredity: The jaw is just too small to accommodate the full set of teeth that are developing. Keeping an eye on this type of situation is one of the many reasons your child needs to see a dentist regularly. If your dentist sees that tooth overcrowding is likely to be an issue for your child because of jaw size, he or she will likely send you to consult with an orthodontist—a specialist in tooth alignment and jaw development.
There is an orthodontic appliance called a palatal expander that can gradually increase the size of a growing child’s upper jaw. The upper jaw is actually two separate bones that grow towards each other and fuse at the middle of the palate (roof of the mouth). However, this fusion isn’t complete until a little after puberty; so there’s a window of opportunity to influence the size of the jaw by pushing the two bones apart. New bone will grow in between them to solidify the expansion–but this treatment can only be effective if the child is still growing.
In either of the above situations, timing is everything. So don’t wait too long to protect your child’s space—make sure dental visits occur regularly! To learn more call one of our :DP AtYourService Customer Care Representatives at 1-800-238-5163.