A space between teeth (also called “gap teeth”) is the colloquial term for a diastema. Although a diastema can occur anywhere in the mouth, the most common location is between the two upper front teeth.
Although many people embrace the space between their teeth (think of Madonna), diastemas can also be an indicator of serious dental issues. In addition, diastemas located in the back of the mouth can cause serious, ongoing issues if not cleaned properly.
The simplest definition of a diastema is a gap between teeth. The precise terms for a diastema depend on its location.
- Mandibular diastemas are gaps in the lower teeth.
- Midline or median diastemas are a gap between the two front teeth.
Midline diastemas are quite common among young children. It is estimated that 98% of 6-year-olds have midline diastemas in their baby teeth. However, this number decreases to 49% by the ages of 10 and 11 when permanent teeth erupt. Among adolescents, only 7% of teens between the ages of 12 and 18 have midline diastemas.
For this reason, most orthodontists do not recommend kid braces to correct diastemas in young children since the gap may correct itself naturally as children grow. However, because other orthodontic issues (such as a crossbite or crowded bottom teeth) may be present, a visit to a children orthodontist is recommended by the age of 7.
Causes of Gap Teeth
There are many reasons why people develop gap teeth, including the following:
- A mismatch between teeth and jaw size. This is the most common cause of diastemas. If a patient’s teeth are too small for their jaw, misalignment (and space between teeth can occur). Because jawbone size and teeth size can be genetic, a diastema may be hereditary.
- Overgrowth of tissue bordering gum line and upper front teeth. The overgrowth can cause the teeth to separate—thereby causing the gap.
- Habits such as thumb sucking or tongue thrusting. These oral habits from childhood can cause the front teeth to separate, which can create space between teeth. However, habit appliances can help to stop these behaviors before they cause problems.
- Incorrect swallowing reflex. When people swallow correctly, their tongue presses against the roof of their mouth. However, people with incorrect swallowing reflexes push their tongue against their front teeth when swallowing. Over time, this pushes out the front teeth, which can create a gap.
- Missing or undersized teeth.
- Peg lateral. This is a developmental defect of the upper lateral incisor (the teeth next to the upper two front teeth). As a result, the upper lateral incisors are too small—thereby creating gaps.
- Gum disease (periodontitis). Gum disease causes inflammation of the gum and tissue that support the teeth. Over time, this can lead to tooth loss and cause the space between teeth. Therefore, it is critical to have a diastema examined by an orthodontist, as it may be an indicator of serious gum disease.
Problems Caused by Gap Teeth
In many cases, gap teeth are primarily a cosmetic issue. However, if a diastema occurs between posterior (back) teeth, the gap can trap food. Over time, this “food trap” can lead to tooth decay or bone loss. Because of this, people with posterior diastemas must take care and clean the gaps between teeth with a water flosser.
Treatment Options for Gap Teeth
Treatment options for diastemas depend on the location, size, and causes of the space between teeth. Only an orthodontist or dentist can determine the appropriate treatment option and whether the gap teeth are indicators of more severe dental issues.
Treatment options for gap teeth include:
- Composite bonding
Braces and Gap Teeth
Braces can be used to adjust the space between teeth and close gaps. For larger gaps, braces are the best option. However, smaller gaps can most likely be closed with other options, such as Invisalign.
- Damon Braces. A type of self-ligating braces system, Damon braces offer a few advantages over traditional metal braces, such as no need for elastic ties, fewer office visits, and faster, more comfortable adjustment appointments.
- Clear Ceramic Braces. These types of braces are popular with teens and adults who want less noticeable braces. The difference between clear ceramic braces and metal braces is primarily cosmetic. With clear ceramic braces, the brackets are made of clear or tooth-colored ceramic. White-coated wires and clear elastics can also be used.
- Self-Ligating Metal Braces. As mentioned above, the difference between metal braces and clear ceramic braces is mostly cosmetic. Although the office offers traditional metal braces, the more efficient and technologically advanced self-ligating braces are recommended. Self-ligating braces are preferred because they are easier to clean, require fewer appointments, and involve less time in the dental chair.
- Lingual Braces. Although less widely used than self-ligating braces, lingual braces are another option available at the practice. Lingual braces are fixed to the back of teeth—making them much less noticeable. However, lingual braces have some disadvantages, such as the possibility of developing a speech impediment (lisp) and a higher price tag.
The benefit of using braces to close a diastema is that braces can also correct other orthodontic issues, such as crowded teeth and malocclusions (bad bites).
Invisalign and Gap Teeth
For mild or moderate gap teeth, Invisalign may be the best solution. Invisalign uses a series of clear aligners that help to move and straighten teeth by aligning bites. Many people prefer Invisalign to braces because they are less noticeable than braces and are removable, which makes it easier to clean teeth.
However, Invisalign is not always the appropriate treatment option for all orthodontic issues. Dr. Redford will perform a complete examination and evaluation to determine whether Invisalign is the best treatment option for a patient.
Another factor for some families is Invisalign cost, which can sometimes be more expensive than braces. However, depending on insurance and the orthodontic treatment required, Invisalign can be an affordable option for many patients.
Patients with gap teeth have several options for closing the space between teeth, including braces and Invisalign. Although reasons for fixing diastemas are primarily cosmetic in nature, they may also indicate serious dental issues, such as gum disease. For this reason, it is best to seek an evaluation by an experienced orthodontist like Dr. Redford to determine if the gap is caused by more serious, underlying issues.
Patients seeking the best orthodontist in Temecula and Lake Elsinore know Burke & Redford Orthodontists is the obvious choice. With hundreds of 5-star reviews, our orthodontists are one of the most well-reviewed and rated in Riverside County for over 30 years.
For all things orthodontic, Southern California residents can choose the Burke & Redford Orthodontist office closest to them in Temecula or Lake Elsinore. Contact our main office at (951) 699-8011, or you may complete a “Schedule A Consultation” form on our website. Our helpful staff will schedule a time that works with your schedule and answer any questions.