The gap between two teeth is known as diastema. It’s most common in the upper teeth, the two front upper teeth in particular, but gaps may occur between any two teeth. It’s also the most common cosmetic dental issue that people want to fix. These gaps are formed primarily when the size of the jaw bones do not match the size of the teeth. When the the teeth are smaller than the jaw bone, gaps appear between the teeth. If the teeth are bigger in size than the jaw bone, then overcrowding of the teeth occurs, which is also a dental issue.
Periodontal disease or gum disease, which causes loss of the bone, makes the teeth loose and can result in the formation of gaps between the teeth. An overgrown labial frenum can also cause gaps to form between the teeth. You can feel the labial frenum, which is a tissue, on the inner surface of the upper lip. Just extend your tongue up towards the upper lip and you will be able to feel the tissue extending from the top of the upper lip till the two upper front teeth. In some people this tissue grows beyond a limit and juts out between the teeth, preventing the gap from naturally closing.
Certain habits can lead to gaps between teeth as well.
- Thumb Sucking: This can pull the front forward resulting in gaps forming between the teeth. It can also happen due to prolonged use of a pacifier.
- Tongue Thrust: Tongue thrust is an incorrect swallow reflex that can cause spaces to occur between the front teeth. Typically, the tongue touches the roof of the mouth at time of swallowing. In some people, the tongue presses against the front teeth instead. This constant pressure on the front teeth can push them forward, resulting in formation of spaces between the teeth.
Prevention vs Treatment
If the gaps between your teeth are due to gum disease, it can be prevented. You need to maintain oral hygiene, brush your teeth twice a day and floss between the teeth regularly to prevent gum disease and in turn prevent gaps from forming. If your child is prone to excessive thumb sucking, you need to address it early to ensure that it doesn’t lead to formation of gaps between the teeth later on. Similarly, if you have got into the habit of tongue thrust, it can be unlearned and you can go back to the regular swallow reflex. If you failed to address this early on and gaps have already formed between the teeth, then you should treat it as soon as possible. In case of gaps caused by bad habits or gum disease, if the gaps aren’t treated, it can become wider and eventually loosen and teeth and cause pain. However, if the gaps between the teeth is due to a mismatch between the teeth size and jaw size or because of a missing/broken tooth, then you cannot fix it without treatment.
When Can Braces Be Used in Gap Teeth Treatment?
Dental braces can help fix gaps between teeth. But in certain circumstances, you might require additional preliminary treatment before the dental braces can be fitted. Firstly, the orthodontist will examine your teeth to determine if you require a full set of braces or not. Depending on the positioning of the gaps in the teeth and the number of gaps, you might be required to wear a full set. This is so because partial braces will fix the existing gaps and in doing so create gaps between some of the other teeth. A full set of braces, covering both the upper and lower teeth, will ensure that all of the teeth are aligned properly at the end of the treatment period.
If the lateral incisors (maxillary or mandibular) are smaller than the rest of the teeth, then you might require additional treatment. The orthodontist will use crowns, bonding or veneers to widen the lateral incisors in order to make it possible to fit dental braces. Similarly, if the gaps between the teeth are due to missing teeth, you will first have to undergo dental repair before the braces can be fitted. Typically, the process of dental repair will involve dental implants, partial denture (artificial teeth) or a bridge to close the gap(s).
You will require treatment in case of periodontal or gum disease as well. Unless the disease is dealt with and gum health has recovered, the braces will simply not be effective. In kids and adolescents, once gum health is restored, the gaps may fill up naturally. In adults, dental braces make it happen. You will need to undergo a small surgery to fix the overgrown labial frenum. Post the surgery the gap can naturally close in kids, while adults will have to get braces.
It’s best if gaps between the teeth are dealt with early on. If you notice gaps in your child’s teeth, consult your dentist right away. It doesn’t mean that an adult can’t get gaps between the teeth fixed later in life. Your dentist is best placed to determine the reason for the gaps between the teeth and depending on the diagnosis will refer you to an orthodontist. As mentioned earlier, in certain situations, you might need additional treatment or even surgery before the braces can be fitted. Hence, the orthodontist will discuss all of this is detail with you before proceeding with the treatment.
What you should definitely not do is try to treat yourself with do-it-yourself (DIY) braces. Using these DIY braces, without the supervision or guidance of a dentist or orthodontist, is risky to say the least and can seriously damage your teeth. Both the American Dental Association (ADA) and the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) have issued consumer warnings in recent years against these DIY braces.
Finally, keep in mind that while gaps between teeth look ugly and that’s one of the primary reasons people fix them, the reasons such gaps occur can indicate serious issues with your dental health. Hence, do not take it lightly and do as the orthodontist says. Also, after the braces are taken off, try to keep the retainers on as that would significantly reduce chances of a relapse.