Do you or your child have gaps in your smile? There can be many reasons for spaces between teeth. These spaces may affect just two teeth or all of your teeth. They may be narrow and barely noticeable, or they can be as wide as a missing tooth.
Gapped teeth can affect your appearance, but they don't always affect your health. Your dentist or orthodontist can tell you whether a gap may be a sign of another problem and discuss treatments if you want to make changes to your smile.
What causes gaps in teeth?
Spaces between teeth are known by dentists and orthodontists as diastema. This condition can have many possible causes, which your dentist will aim to identify so they can plan appropriate treatments.
The most common reasons for gaps between teeth are:
- New teeth
- Small teeth or wide jaw
- Low fraenum
- Thumb sucking
- Tongue thrusting
- Gum disease
- Missing teeth
It's perfectly normal for children's teeth to have gaps when they first come through. This can be most noticeable between the upper front teeth and it can affect both the primary teeth (milk teeth) and permanent (adult) teeth.
Gaps between milk teeth help to maintain space in the jaw for the permanent teeth that come along to replace them. Gaps between permanent incisors usually close by themselves once the canine teeth have erupted.
Small teeth or wide jaw
Not everyone's teeth and jaws are a perfect match. Teeth may appear spaced apart if they are disproportionately smaller than the jaw. As teeth and jaw sizes are influenced by genetics, gapped teeth often run in the family.
The labial fraenum is the fold of skin above the front teeth that connects the upper lip to the gum. If this is further down than normal, this can wedge the teeth apart and leave a gap.
If the lingual fraenum on the lower gum restricts tongue movements, this can lead to a tongue tie which forces the lower teeth apart.
Thumb and finger sucking doesn't normally cause problems if it stops early, but children who continue to suck their thumbs after the age of 4 risk forcing their teeth apart. This can lead to gaps and other alignment issues.
A tongue thrust is when the tongue pushes against the teeth when you swallow, rather than against the roof of the mouth. This pressure on the front teeth can lead to gaps forming over time.
Gum disease occurs when bacteria infect or irritate the gums, leading to inflammation. In its early stage (gingivitis), gum disease can make the gums red, swollen and itchy, but more severe gum disease (periodontitis) can cause permanent damage to the gums and tissues supporting the teeth, leaving gaps.
A gap can also be left by one or more missing teeth, which may be lost naturally in childhood or due to a dental disease or injury. These wider gaps are especially important to treat, as they can affect the alignment of surrounding teeth or cause difficulties with eating or speech.
Are gaps in teeth a problem?
Spaces between teeth may be an aesthetic concern or they could cause other problems in your mouth. Some people like the distinctiveness of a gap in their smile, while it can make others feel self-conscious.
If a gap is affecting your appearance and self-confidence, it's up to you whether you want to pursue treatment. You can talk to your dentist about orthodontics or cosmetic dental treatments to find out what these involve so you can make an informed decision.
Larger gaps can leave teeth without support on one or both sides, which could lead to teeth going crooked. Gaps may also cause crowding if they prevent teeth from growing normally, while gaps from missing teeth can sometimes cause problems with eating or speaking.
Treatments for gapped teeth
Your dentist can examine your mouth or your child's mouth and discuss the treatments they offer for filling the gap or bringing your teeth closer together. They will also recommend treatments for oral health problems such as gum disease treatment that may have caused the gaps in the first place.
Treating spaced teeth isn't always necessary. Gaps in children's teeth often close by themselves as they grow or when their baby teeth are replaced by permanent teeth. However, gaps in adult teeth are likely to remain or to get more noticeable over time.
Depending on what's causing gaps between teeth, treatment options can include:
- Oral surgery
- Replacing missing teeth
Some gaps may be closed by moving the teeth closer together so they touch. Orthodontic treatment uses fixed or removable oral appliances that apply gentle force to guide the teeth and jaws into their desired positions.
- Braces use brackets and wires to move the teeth and jaws. Braces can be the best option for more widely spaced teeth.
- Invisalign® clear aligners are an alternative to braces that can also treat gapped teeth. These aligners are less visible on the teeth than braces and they can be removed when eating, brushing and flossing.
- Children's orthodontics uses appliances such as plates to gently reposition baby teeth and the developing jaws and help prepare for permanent teeth.
Orthodontic treatment can offer lasting results, but it's a long term treatment that often takes a year or more, depending on how much your teeth need to be moved.
Minor gaps may be sealed using composite bonding. This is a simple and painless procedure that involves applying a composite resin to the teeth in layers. These layers are built up and hardened until the gap is closed.
Your dentist will choose a shade of resin that matches your tooth colour and will shape and polish the restoration for a natural-looking finish. Bonding can sometimes be completed in a single visit to the dentist, depending on how many gaps you want to close.
The downside is that the composite resin is more prone to stains than tooth enamel. Some of the enamel may also need to be removed or roughened to make it easier for the resin to bond to your teeth.
Dental veneers can be an alternative to bonding for closing small or slightly wider gaps. These are thin coverings that fit over the front of teeth and can extend across gaps to bring teeth together.
· Porcelain veneers are custom made from porcelain ceramic and bonded to the teeth. These cost more than composite veneers, but they can last longer, look more like natural teeth, and are more resistant to damage, wear and stains.
· Composite veneers are made from composite resin and layered on the teeth by an experienced dentist. This procedure is faster and cheaper than having porcelain veneers, but they may not last as long or look as natural.
Veneers can be more convenient than orthodontics for fixing a gap, but veneers for multiple teeth can be expensive. Your dentist may also need to remove a thin layer of enamel to help the veneers bond, depending on the type of veneers you have and the condition of your teeth.
If gaps are caused by a low fraenum between the front teeth, this excess tissue can be removed by a qualified dentist or oral surgeon before another treatment is arranged to close the gap.
Fraenectomy is a relatively minor surgical procedure, but your dentist will make sure you know the possible risks involved.
Replacing missing teeth
If you have a gap left by one or more missing teeth, these could affect your smile, your oral health and your overall health and wellbeing. Dentists can fill the gap with an artificial tooth that looks natural and will help you to eat, speak and brush normally.
Dentists offer several treatments to replace missing teeth, with options to suit different preferences and price ranges. These include:
- Dental implant – the surgical placement of a titanium post in the jaw that bonds with the bone to support a prosthetic tooth. Implants cost more than the alternatives, but they can last a lifetime with good care.
- Dental bridge – a prosthetic tooth or teeth supported by the healthy teeth on either side. Bridges may be attached to teeth using crowns or clasps, depending on their position in the mouth.
- Partial dentures – removable dentures can replace one tooth or several teeth in a row. They attach to the mouth using clasps or a dental implant.
How to prevent gaps in teeth
Some gaps between teeth can't be avoided, but others may be prevented by getting out of bad habits, maintaining good oral hygiene and taking steps such as wearing a sports mouthguard to lower your risk of serious dental injuries.
Good brushing and flossing, a healthy diet and regular dental check-ups can help to keep gum disease and other problems at bay. Your child's dentist can also offer advice about how to stop thumb sucking or tongue thrusting.
Do you need a dentist in Brisbane CBD?
If you want to talk to a Brisbane dentist about closing gaps between your teeth or other issues affecting your smile, contact our team at Face Value Dental today.
Better Health Channel. Teeth - gapped teeth [Online] 2019 [Accessed February 2021] Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/teeth-gapped-teeth
Better Health Channel. Orthodontic treatment [Online] 2019 [Accessed February 2021] Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/orthodontic-treatment
Healthdirect. Veneers [Online] 2020 [Accessed February 2021] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/veneers