"Baby teeth" are as important to infants and children as permanent teeth are to older children and adults.

These "first teeth" are necessary for a child to chew and speak. But baby teeth serve another very important purpose--they save space for the child's future permanent teeth.

A baby tooth usually remains in the child's mouth until a permanent tooth underneath it is ready to emerge through the gums. The roots of the baby tooth dissolve and the tooth becomes loose and falls out. The permanent tooth "comes up" a few weeks later. If a child loses a tooth too early--before the permanent tooth is ready to erupt--or if it is accidently knocked out, or is removed by the dentist because of disease, the space must be saved. A space maintainer is inserted to take the place of the "baby tooth" until the permanent tooth is ready to emerge.

The space maintainer is a small metal device that encircles the tooth and the space to be saved. It "holds" the space until the permanent tooth is ready to erupt, stopping the other teeth from tipping or drifting into the empty space.

If teeth on either side of the open space encroach upon the empty space, there may not be room for the permanent tooth. The new permanent tooth may erupt out of its proper position and can affect positioning of other teeth. If teeth become crowded and out of alignment with each other, then the teeth are maloccluded. Maloccluded teeth are difficult to clean, have greater chances of becoming diseased, and later might require expensive and time-consuming orthodontic treatment.

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