Spacers for Teeth: Orthodontic Spacers | Orthodontist Austin TX

Limestone Hills Orthodontics
January 29, 2024

Rodrigo F. Viecilli, DDS, PhD

Orthodontist Austin TX

These small but vital tools are key in preparing your mouth for braces by creating space between teeth, normally to place metal bands, which are metal rings that are fit around teeth to support traditional braces. This article dives into the types of “orthodontic spacers for teeth”, outlines their function, and offers insights on installation and care, equipping you with the knowledge to navigate your orthodontic journey.

Spacers for Teeth: Key Takeaways

  • In orthodontic language, orthodontic spacers, available as rubber or metal varieties, create space between teeth for metal bands of traditional braces and are essential for proper teeth alignment and the installation of orthodontic appliances. Many people, however, refer to orthodontic spacers when they actually mean an orthodontic palatal expander (click the link for more info),
  • The discomfort associated with orthodontic separators is temporary and can be alleviated with over-the-counter pain relievers and good oral hygiene, including gentle brushing and the use of fluoride mouthwash, is vital while wearing spacers.
  • At Limestone Hills Orthodontics in Austin TX, almost no patients get spacers, or orthodontic separators, because we use the latest technology of 3D printed appliances which are fit around the tooth contact and do not need spacers to be placed. We use the latest high strength bonding techniques and products and rarely use metal bands and therefore rarely need separators. Less pain for you! Book your appointment with us here.
  • The cost of spacers varies but is often included within the broader braces treatment including metal bands based palatal expanders, costing between $1,700 and $6,000.

Understanding Spacers for Teeth – They are also called Orthodontic Separators- The Basics

Metal spacers for teeth opening space for metal bands.
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Do not confuse these with palate expanders (palatal expanders). Orthodontic spacers, as suggested by their name, function to create room between the teeth. They primarily aid in the placement of metal bands for a tooth brace and ensure sufficient space for proper teeth alignment and the installation of orthodontic appliances. These separators are the unsung heroes of orthodontic therapy, paving the way for the incoming permanent teeth and the traditional braces that will guide them into their perfect positions.

Rubber and metal represent two varieties of spacers, each possessing its distinct advantages. Rubber spacers, due to their soft nature, are gentle on both teeth and gums. On the other hand, metal separators, with their durable characteristics, are used when long-term space maintenance is required. Both types are essential in orthodontics, and the choice between them depends on the patient’s specific needs and the dentist’s recommendation.

Types of Spacers or Orthodontic Separators

A range of spacers are available in orthodontics to address varying dental conditions. The two major types are rubber spacers, also known as orthodontic separators, and metal spacers. The selection typically depends on the patient’s dental condition and the orthodontist’s professional judgment.

Owing to their elastic nature, rubber spacers are mild on the teeth and gums, earning them popularity among many patients. However, on the flip side, they can sometimes lead to gum irritation and discomfort post-insertion.

Contrarily, metal separators are known for their durability and sturdiness. They ensure proper fitting of traditional braces with metal bands and are especially important when preparing for incoming permanent teeth- for instance, helping a second molar impacted behind a first molar to erupt into the mouth. They can be placed between baby teeth or permanent teeth.

Rubber Spacers: The Soft Option

Rubber spacers are a soft and flexible orthodontic tool. They are made of natural or synthetic rubber, contributing to their elastic properties and reducing the likelihood of causing discomfort or irritation. These characteristics make rubber spacers the go-to option when dealing with a child’s teeth, particularly when baby teeth are still present, and space needs to be created for the incoming adult teeth.

The process of inserting spacers, specifically rubber spacers, is an intricate one. It involves an orthodontist using a tool or dental floss to stretch the spacer and then carefully wiggle it into place between the molars while the patient holds their mouth open wide.

Despite their many benefits, rubber spacers do have their disadvantages. Over time, natural rubber may deteriorate and lose elasticity, and synthetic rubber alternatives may lack the durability of natural rubber. These types of separators usually tend to fall off between 1-2 weeks.

Metal Separators: The Durable Alternative

In contrast to their rubber counterparts, metal spacers offer durability and strength. They are made from robust metals and alloys such as small metal rings made of titanium, stainless steel or brass.

Metal separators are generally worn for a period of one to six weeks. They provide enhanced security and stability, minimizing the risk of displacement and thereby reducing the initial discomfort. Additionally, they contribute to expediting the alignment process and effectively creating the required space between closely positioned and wedged back teeth, making them a suitable long-term solution.

The Purpose of Spacers in Dental Treatment

Brass wire spacer placement for orthodontic space creation for band placement
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In dental treatment, spacers play a significant role. Their primary function is to:

  • Preserve space for the proper growth of adult teeth
  • Prevent neighboring teeth from moving into the vacant space, thereby ensuring correct alignment
  • Prepare the mouth for the subsequent installation of traditional braces.

The need for dental spacers is particularly prevalent in children who experience premature loss of a baby tooth, and the permanent teeth have not yet emerged. In such cases, spacers preserve oral health by maintaining the required space. Therefore, understanding the purpose of spacers in dental treatment is essential for any individual undergoing orthodonthia.

Comfort and Care with Spacers

Despite their crucial role in orthodontic treatment, spacers can occasionally lead to discomfort. The initial discomfort, however, usually subsides after a couple of days as the patient adjusts to the spacers. Moreover, some patients report a sense of relief after the spacers are removed.

Maintaining good oral hygiene while wearing spacers is crucial. Proper cleaning around the areas of the spacers and careful brushing can help prevent any potential dental issues. Let’s delve deeper into the comfort and maintenance aspects of wearing spacers.

Are Spacers Uncomfortable?

The discomfort from spacers generally subsides within the first few days after insertion. The level of discomfort can vary based on several factors such as:

  • the individual’s pain threshold
  • dental anxiety
  • cold sensitivity
  • current emotional state

Various methods can alleviate discomfort caused by dental spacers. Over-the-counter pain relievers can help, as can rinsing with a warm salt-water mixture several times a day. Remember, the discomfort is temporary and subsides as the mouth adjusts to the spacers.

Maintenance and Hygiene

Good oral hygiene is crucial while wearing spacers. Here are some tips to follow:

  1. Brush gently, particularly around the rear teeth, to ensure thorough cleaning around the spacers.
  2. Regular and thorough brushing and flossing are vital.
  3. Take care not to dislodge the spacers during the process.

Incorporating mouthwash into daily oral hygiene can also be beneficial. An alcohol-free, fluoride mouthwash, such as Peroxyl Antiseptic Mouthwash, is recommended as it aids in mouth cleansing and supports healing. Colgate toothpaste and toothbrushes are typically recommended for individuals with spacers to maintain oral health.

Eating Habits with Spacers

The comfort and maintenance of spacers are largely impacted by eating habits. Certain foods have the potential to dislodge or harm dental spacers and should be avoided. On the other hand, consuming soft, easy-to-swallow foods can offer soothing relief to sore teeth caused by spacers.

The suggested diet for individuals with spacers typically includes soft foods, such as:

  • soup
  • yogurt
  • milkshakes
  • ice cream
  • applesauce
  • cottage cheese
  • soft boneless meat
  • steamed vegetables diced into small pieces
  • mashed potatoes
  • oatmeal

Let’s delve deeper into the dos and don’ts of eating habits while wearing spacers, as we hold space for understanding the importance of proper care.

Foods to Avoid

Certain foods can damage or dislodge dental spacers and should be avoided. These include:

  • Popcorn
  • Gum or gummy candies
  • Chewing ice
  • Sticky or hard candies like toffee
  • Hard foods like pretzels, tortillas, nuts, and crusted bread
  • Raw vegetables that are too hard to chew

Chewing gum, in particular, can be problematic. Sticky or hard gum can damage or dislodge dental spacers, so it is advisable to refrain from chewing gum, and if necessary, opt for sugar-free gum that does not adhere to the spacers. Crunchy snacks, including nuts, popcorn, and hard candies, can break brackets or wires, leading to their loosening.

Safe Snacking and Meals

While some foods should be avoided, there are plenty of safe and delicious options for those wearing spacers. Here are some soft foods that are advised:

  • Yogurt
  • Pudding
  • Soft cheeses
  • Dairy products like milkshakes

Fruits and vegetables such as applesauce, cooked tomatoes, spinach, squash, and creamed vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, as well as soups are safe to consume. It is, however, advisable to avoid raw vegetables and salads. Cooking methods also play a role in what foods are safe to eat. Steaming or cooking vegetables to soften them, boiling chicken or meat to make them tender, and avoiding sticky foods that can get trapped in the spacers are all recommended cooking methods.

The Process of Inserting and Removing Spacers

Inserting and removing spacers process
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An orthodontist or an assistant typically performs the detailed process of spacer insertion. The process involves:

  1. Stretching the spacer
  2. Flossing it between the baby teeth or adult teeth
  3. Pulling it through to ensure visibility on both sides
  4. Using the floss to adjust the spacer into the proper position.

Spacers are removed once they have fulfilled their purpose. The removal process is straightforward and quick, often carried out by using a specialized small tool. Let’s delve deeper into the insertion and removal processes.

Insertion Techniques

The insertion of teeth spacers requires the use of a small tool or dental floss to stretch each spacer before carefully placing it between the molars. For rubber spacers, the process involves stretching the spacer and using dental floss to guide and position it between the teeth.

The insertion of metal spacers, on the other hand, involves different procedures due to their structural differences. They are larger, approximately a centimeter in size, and typically utilized for a longer duration.

When and How to Remove Spacers

Spacers are typically removed after a period of one to two weeks, based on the readiness of the permanent tooth to erupt. They are removed using an orthodontic bracket removing pliers or dental adhesive removing pliers.

In some cases, dental spacers can dislodge independently, particularly when the permanent teeth start to emerge and exert pressure, causing the spacers to shift out of place.

Cost and Considerations for Spacer Treatment

Depending on the type of spacer and the patient’s unique needs, the cost of spacer treatment can fluctuate. On average, the cost of rubber spacers typically ranges from $50 to $100 per spacer. For metal spacers, there is no extra cost as they are included within the braces treatment, which typically ranges from $1,700 to $6,000.

Patients have a range of payment options for orthodontic treatment, such as:

  • Utilizing dental insurance
  • Flexible spending accounts
  • Health savings accounts
  • Taking advantage of payment plans provided by orthodontists

Despite the costs, the use of spacers is generally considered a worthwhile investment in long-term dental health.

Customizing Spacer Treatments for Children

Just as children’s dental needs are distinct, so is their requirement for spacer treatment when it comes to a child’s teeth. When assessing the necessity of dental spacers in children, various factors are considered, including the speed of eruption of the adult tooth, the location of the lost baby tooth, and the time elapsed since the tooth was lost.

The age of the child, which aligns with their stages of dental development, influences the selection of dental spacers. Fixed and removable spacers are the most suitable types for children, with fixed spacers offering simplicity and longevity, and removable spacers providing flexibility in hygiene and adjustment.

Assessing a Child’s Need for Spacers

To assess a child’s need for spacers, a comprehensive examination of the child’s teeth is conducted, taking into account factors such as the speed of the permanent tooth’s eruption, the location of the lost baby tooth, and the time since the tooth’s loss. The type of spacers suitable for a child is determined by factors such as the severity of crowding or spacing, the patient’s age, and dental development.

These assessments ensure that the child receives the most appropriate treatment. They are crucial in determining the need for spacers and in selecting the appropriate type of spacer for the child’s specific dental needs.

Specialized Spacers for Kids

Designed keeping children’s comfort and needs in mind, specialized spacers cater specifically to kids. Pediatric spacers are meticulously crafted to prioritize safety, comfort, and ease of wear for children. These spacers are specifically engineered to establish a gap between the child’s mouth and the treatment, and may come in the form of fixed or removable dental spacers.

The utilization of specialized spacers for children has been documented to be favored by both children and parents, with a considerable number finding them to be more efficient and convenient. Therefore, understanding the options and benefits of specialized spacers for children can ensure a comfortable and effective treatment experience.


Orthodontic spacers, although small, play a significant role in orthodontic treatment. Whether rubber or metal, their primary function is to create the necessary space for braces and ensure proper teeth alignment. While they may cause initial discomfort, there are various ways to manage this, and good oral hygiene can minimize potential dental issues. Dietary adjustments can also enhance comfort and prevent damage to spacers. Understanding the process of inserting and removing spacers, the costs involved, and how spacer treatments can be customized for children can help patients and parents make informed decisions about their orthodontic treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does a spacer do for teeth?

Spacers are used to create space between molars so that braces components can fit properly, especially for patients with very close back teeth. This helps ensure effective orthodontic treatment.

How long do teeth spacers stay in?

Teeth spacers usually stay in for one to two weeks while the appropriate amount of space is achieved. In some cases, your orthodontist may opt for the metal variety if a longer duration is necessary.

How painful is a spacer?

The pain from spacers can vary from person to person, ranging from mild discomfort to more severe pain. However, the good news is that the pain tends to lessen over time.

Can you eat with spacers?

Yes, you can eat with spacers, but you should avoid sticky foods like chewing gum, toffee, caramel, and gummy candies as they can pull the spacers out of position.

What are the different types of spacers?

The main types of spacers are rubber and metal. Rubber spacers are a good choice for absorbing vibrations, while metal spacers are known for their durability and strength.


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