Clearing up the Confusion about Spacers

Part of your orthodontic treatment plan may include having spacers before or during braces. Learn more about why spacers are needed, what to expect when wearing them, and how to adjust to wearing them.

Taking a Closer Look at Dental Spacers

There are actually a few different things that are sometimes referred to as “spacers.”  Small rubber rings placed between back teeth are often used prior to placing braces or appliances.  These are usually referred to as spacers or separators because they create space or separate the back teeth.  These are necessary if you are going to have metal rings or bands placed around the back teeth.

These separators usually cause a little discomfort upon placement, but more discomfort later the same day once the teeth actually begin to move.  This discomfort is usually minor enough that it can be controlled with over-the-counter pain medicine.

Probably even more importantly, soft foods are much more comfortable to chew during the first few days after separator placement.  Sticky foods such as gum and taffy should be avoided, as they could pull the spacers out of the mouth. Flossing can be done between all of the teeth except the areas that have the spacers.  Flossing here can also cause the spacers to come out. If these separators come out, it can necessitate replacement or make the placement of appliances more difficult at your next appointment.  Usually, separators stay in place for approximately one week to have the desired effects.

Are Spacers and Expanders the same thing?

An expander is a type of orthodontic appliance that is also sometimes referred to as a spacer.  This appliance is usually used for the upper arch and widens it.

Expanders have multiple uses.  First, when the upper arch is narrow and it does not match the width of the lower arch, the upper jaw can be widened so they properly match.  Also, when the arch is widened, this creates more space in them and this can help with crowded teeth. Discomfort with expanders is usually very minor and most patients say it feels more like pressure than pain.  Usually, pain relievers are not necessary when using an expander.

Expanders can either be used before or along with braces.  This type of “spacer” usually remains in the mouth for six to eight months so that the expansion is stable.  As with separators, it is important that the patient avoids eating sticky foods, as they could cause the appliance to come loose.  In addition, it is a good idea to avoid very hard foods like ice, nuts, and hard candy, as they can damage the appliance.

Yet Another type of “Spacer”

One other type of orthodontic appliance that is known as a “spacer” to some is also referred to as a space maintainer.  There are different types of space maintainers and they can be used to hold space in either the upper arch or the lower arch.  

As the name implies, these appliances maintain space.  They can be used when baby teeth are lost prematurely or to hold teeth that have been moved, kind of like a retainer.  There are actually a couple of baby teeth in the lower arch that are a fair amount larger than the permanent teeth that erupt to replace them.  In certain cases, this extra space can be very useful if a space maintainer is used to keep the lower permanent molars from shifting forward. There is typically no discomfort with the placement of a space maintainer, as it is generally a passive device.  There are similar food restrictions to those for an expander, which primarily include avoiding sticky and hard foods. The amount of time which space maintainers stay cemented varies widely depending on the purpose and timing; it can be months or years.

Have additional questions about dental spacers? Call Reddick Orthodontics. Our office staff will gladly answer any questions you have about dental spacers or orthodontic treatment.

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