When your child loses a baby tooth, it's a cause to celebrate the process of growing up and slip a coin under the pillow, but when it's a permanent tooth that's lost, it's a dental emergency. If your child's dentist is unable to re-implant the missing tooth, you'll want to explore other options to fill the gap. Dental implants are an excellent choice for many people who lose a permanent tooth because they're very sturdy and function very similarly to a natural tooth. Oral surgeons don't usually place implants in kids and teens, however.
Why Can't My Child Get an Implant?
Dental implants require oral surgery to place a screw-like implant in the jawbone. A crown is placed over the implant to act as the replacement for the upper part most people think of as their "teeth." Children and teens are still growing, and implanting something in their jaws can affect their future growth and tooth spacing.
According to Oral Answers, girls can usually get implants between 14 and 15 years old, while boys should wait until they're at least 17 because their jaws have grown enough that a dental implant shouldn't cause problems. Some oral surgeons prefer to wait a little longer, however.
Can I Just Leave the Space?
Even if your child's missing tooth isn't in a noticeable place, it's not a good idea to just leave it be. The surrounding teeth will start to shift into the empty space and could cause problems with chewing and speaking. An abnormal space can also cause bite misalignment, which puts undue stress on the other teeth in the mouth. In short, a missing tooth can be a catalyst for all kinds of other dental and oral problems, so don't ignore it.
Alternatives to an Implant
If your child's dentist recommends waiting for an implant, there are other things you can do in the meantime to take care of the space and improve your child's appearance. In many cases, your child will still be able to get an implant later in life. Discuss your child's specific situation with an oral surgeon to help you make the best decision.
- Partial dentures: Kids might not be thrilled about the idea of a "denture," but a partial is just an easily-removable base with a replacement tooth to fill in the gap. These are good options for kids who are missing a tooth near the front of the mouth because they eliminate aesthetic issues until they're old enough to get an implant.
- Space maintainers: If the missing tooth is in the back of the mouth, your child's dentist may recommend a space maintainer to prevent bite problems and shifting surrounding teeth until he or she can see an oral surgeon for a dental implant.