A gap between teeth is something that a number of individuals have begun to sport as a fashion statement. Others still deem it to be an inconvenience and want to have straight teeth. But what are they, really? What causes these gaps to appear? Are there treatments available? If yes, what are they?
The medical term for teeth gaps is “diastema” (plural: diastemata). It is not an unnatural feature. It occurs with many people in the world, and most herbivores in the animal kingdom have diastemata as well.
The downside to having a diastema is that some people associate it with negative connotations. In past centuries, western history has it that women with midline diastema are deemed promiscuous.
On the flip side, there are cultures that appreciate diastemata. African women who have midline diastema are deemed beautiful. Men in their societies see this as a special facial feature and prefer having a partner with diastema.
Whatever the case may be, these are only cultural factors, and the decisions to have a diastema fixed should be entirely up to the person. Before anything else however, understanding the condition is an important step to achieve that over-all confidence that a smile can bring – a smile that is with or without a diastema.
Any space found between two teeth is considered a diastema. The most common type of teeth gap occurs between the two central incisors of the upper teeth, which is referred to as a midline diastema. Sometimes, it also occurs in the area where you can find the lateral incisors (which are the teeth beside your two front teeth)
Many herbivores have this feature, mostly found between the incisors and molars. This is how their teeth are structured, because when eating plants, all they need are incisors for cutting and tearing, and molars for chewing plant food (which needs constant grinding. Herbivores chew more than carnivores do); as opposed to carnivores, whose teeth are angled and sharp, with well-developed incisors all for tearing meat. Humans, being omnivores, have a bit of both.
Normally, teeth would be positioned side by side, but because of certain causes, diastemata may develop. Listed below are some causes of diastema, other than having missing teeth.
1. Diastema in Children. Sometimes, parents would take their children to the dentist worrying over the spaces developing between their teeth. In truth, this is no cause for alarm. At around 7 to 10 years of age (usually referred to as the Ugly Duckling stage), children naturally develop gaps between teeth because their milk teeth remain to be the same size, while their bodies are rapidly growing. Once the milk teeth fall out, and are replaced by permanent teeth, these gaps normally resolve on their own. The spaces close when bigger, permanent teeth fully erupt, pushing the other teeth in place.
In some children, those with overbites may also develop teeth gaps, in that the teeth are jutting out as opposed to pushing against each other.
Hormonal imbalance that causes the jaw to be larger than usual may also cause teeth gaps.
2. In adults, the labial fraenum – which is the tissue connecting the upper lip to the gum – can be oversized and can come between the two upper central incisors, thus causing the formation of a gap.
3. Similarly, an oversized lingual fraenum can cause gaps in the same manner that the labial fraenum does. The lingual fraenum is the tissue that the tongue to the bottom of the mouth.
4. An abnormal jawbone structure may cause diastema, as this renders it unable it to hold teeth in their proper positions.
5. Discrepancy in jaw size and teeth size. If the jaw is big and the teeth are quite small, development of spaces between teeth can occur. In some races, having a large jaw is genetic. The Negroid race is an example of this.
6. Some habits can cause diastema. Tongue thrusting, or constantly pushing your tongue against the back of your teeth can create a gap between them. Also, the way you swallow food and drink can cause diastema: if you swallow with a tongue-thrust reflex (same as with the habit previously mentioned), this can create a space between teeth. The same applies when you have mouth jewelry – such as tongue jewelry. Constantly playing with it can push the jewelry against the back of the teeth; eventually, a midline diastema may develop. Similarly, biting your lower lip can cause a diastema in your lower teeth.
7. Gaps in one’s teeth can also be caused by gum problems, such as gingivitis or periodontal disease and, if left untreated, these spaces can grow bigger. With periodontal disease, some of the bone that supports the teeth (called the alveolar bone) is lost, thereby making the teeth become loose.
Can Teeth Gaps Be Prevented?
Unfortunately, not all teeth gaps can be prevented. The type of teeth gap you may have or already have depends on your habits, body structure, genetics, and oral and overall health. Maintaining teeth and gum health is one way to prevent gaps caused by periodontal disease. In addition, cutting the habits mentioned earlier can prevent the formation of an unwanted gap. Otherwise, your dentist can determine to which type yours belongs (if you are one who already has teeth gap).
Are there any treatments for Teeth Gaps?
Through cosmetic dentistry, teeth gaps can be treated. Cosmetic dentistry refers to any procedure that is meant to improve the appearance of teeth, specifically prosthodontics and orthodontics. The former is also known as prosthetic dentistry which generally deals with conditions related to missing teeth. Orthodontics deals with the treatment of teeth and jaw position adjustments and malocclusions.
As mentioned before, treatment will depend on the type of teeth gap you have. Some gaps remain throughout life, especially if this involves a discrepancy in jawbone and teeth sizes. Others are treatable, but not every treatable teeth gap issue can be solved by the same solution. Diagnosis is required before any kind of treatment is to be done.
Below is a list of possible solutions for teeth gaps.
1. Braces are the first solution that people think of when trying to close teeth gaps. This involves multiple visits to the dentists and may take months to years to reposition the teeth. For the longest time, traditional wire braces have been the treatment of choice. Although they can effectively treat gaps, they do not lend well aesthetically. And that is why, recently, innovations have been made to make braces appear discreet. Available now are clear braces made of ceramic material. Another type of braces that is rapidly gaining popularity among people who want to straighten their teeth are clear teeth aligners, which are a set of clear trays meant to move teeth. These are made of polyurethane material. Patients are usually given a new tray every few weeks to straighten the teeth. However, for minor teeth gaps, braces can be too expensive a treatment, so patients usually search for other less expensive means.
2. Retainers are usually used after braces to ensure the permanence of the new position of teeth. Other than the traditional retainers, clear vacuum formed retainers are now available for people who want to straighten their teeth without having to go through the awkwardness in appearance that traditional retainers give.
3. If your teeth gap is caused by an oversized labial or lingual fraenum, the dentist will conduct a procedure called a labial frenectomy before proceeding to work on the teeth itself. Part of the tissue will be removed if it is deemed an obstruction to the prescribed orthodontic treatment. Removing this portion does not have any significant side effects to speech, nor to the different mouth parts.
4. Dental bonding is also another procedure that can possibly close teeth gaps. This involves “filling” the gap by bonding a type of material to the teeth. It can be done in one visit, although patients may come to a point where the bonding needs to be redone or replaced, usually because it can eventually be discolored. Also, depending on the shape of the teeth, the dentist may require some filing and re-shaping before bonding is done. Closing teeth gaps through bonding can be achieved with only one visit to the dentist.
A disadvantage that comes with bonding however, is that if the gap is as wide as 3mm, the process may make the tooth look too big.
5. A veneer is a very thin material that is adhered on top of a tooth either to improve the color of teeth or to cover teeth gaps. It also discolors less easily than bonding material. They are made of either composite material or porcelain. A composite veneer is either built up on top of the tooth are pre-fabricated and later on will be bonded to the tooth, while porcelain veneers are pre-fabricated before they are bonded. With veneers, there is minimal filing or re-shaping needed with the original teeth. As opposed to bonding, using veneers to close your teeth gap requires at least two visits to the dentist.
Non-permanent veneers have also been developed and made available to anyone who prefers this method. Non-permanent veneers are reusable and made of flexible material. Creating impressions of existing teeth can easily be done at home by way of DIY kits. The mould is then sent to the lab where the veneers are created, and the finished product is sent back to the patient through mail.
6. Lastly, this is a method that many people have used to close minor diastema. Minor teeth gaps are gaps that are only 0.1 to 3.5 mm wide. Since wire braces and vacuum formed braces are too expensive, some people choose alternative, non-invasive and less expensive treatments to close their teeth gaps. Teeth bands, like Orthofill, can close minor teeth gaps.
To close your teeth gap, a band is placed around the two teeth with the gap in between them. The band is usually worn for twelve hours per day for a duration of at least 30 days until the gap is closed. Usually, this first phase is done during sleeping hours. Upon waking up, or after 12 hours since the band was worn, it should be taken off and discarded, and a new band must be used on the next night. After it closes, the permanent position of teeth are maintained by using retainers, or by wearing the bands for 24 hours daily for a duration of at least 30 more days. It is advised that you close one gap at a time, though some have reported success in closing two gaps at one time.
Over all, teeth gap or no teeth gap, achieving the best smile fit for you and your personality can give you many benefits that you may have been unaware of. Confidence in one’s appearance lends well to the way we interact with others and the way we present ourselves. Even the appearance of your teeth can make that difference.