Pediatric Dental Appliances

When most people hear the term “dental appliances” they think of teenage braces and removable maintainers. However, dental appliances refer to so much more than that and can be used by a wider age range, too.

Dental appliances for young children are very common and extremely beneficial. Although it can be difficult to encourage a young child to regularly wear removable dental appliances, they can prevent injury to teeth and are known to reduce or eliminate the need for extensive orthodontic treatment later in life.

The most common types of dental appliances

There are many types of dental appliances dentists can use to correct and treat their patients’ teeth. Some appliances are mainly used for treatment while others are used for preventative purposes.

The most common categories of pediatric dental appliances are described below:

Space Maintainers

When baby teeth are lost prematurely due to decay or trauma, the adjacent teeth will shift to fill in the empty space. This leads to misalignment and complications for incoming adult teeth. Space maintainers “maintain” the space created by missing teeth by inserting placeholders until the permanent teeth come along. The two types of space maintainers are:

  • Removable space maintainers – Similar to orthodontic retainers, these are made of special plastic parts that fit into the gap in the teeth to prevent drifting. These are rarely used with very young children.
  • Fixed space maintainers – These maintainers are fixed into the mouth by attaching to the adjacent teeth. The pediatric dentist may use a “distal shoe,” “crown and loops,” or a “band and loop” spacer. The nature of the attachment of each spacer is different, but each one fulfills the same function. They are made of durable metal, but if the area is highly visible, an acrylic button can be used to improve the aesthetic quality of the smile.

Mouth Guards

Ready-to-use thermoplastic “boil-and-bite” mouth guards can be purchased at most sporting goods stores or can be custom-made by a pediatric dentist to perfectly fit the child’s mouth. These can be worn by children at night to prevent “bruxing” or tooth grinding.

The American Dental Association (ADA) and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) also recommend that children wear mouthguards when playing sports to prevent traumatic injury to the teeth or jaw.

Expansion Appliances

These appliances are custom-made for each child and can be fixed to the inside or outside of the teeth. They work to stretch and widen the arch, providing space for the teeth to be properly realigned. Expansion appliances are recommended for children with an overbite, where the upper front teeth protrude over the lower teeth and children with crossbites. They are also used for children born with a cleft palate in preparation for jaw or oral surgery.

Thumb-Sucking Appliances

Excessive thumb-sucking past the age of five or six can lead to many oral health complications including impacted teeth, misaligned teeth, and narrow arches. If the child cannot stop this habit, their dentist can craft and install a “palatal crib” to the teeth. They are like a barely visible set of braces that prevent the thumb from reaching the roof of the mouth, reducing gratification. Most children with variations of the palatal crib break their habit very quickly. Removable variations can be used depending on the willingness of the child to cooperate.


A bionator device is recommended for children with misaligned or unproportionate jaws. This appliance moves the lower jaw forward, helping the teeth to erupt and align correctly. The use of the bionator in childhood greatly reduces the need for extensive orthodontic treatment later in life and creates a natural-looking smile.

To express any questions or concerns you may have about pediatric dental appliances, or to set up a consultation for your child, please contact Brooklyn Dentist.


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