Gap teeth are one of the most common cosmetic dental issues, and can be caused by everything from thumb-sucking to gum disease. It’s possible to address and correct this problem, but is it always necessary? Here at Kaplan Orthodontics, we believe in keeping our patients informed of all the ins and outs of any potential treatment plan, and that includes an honest look at all the services we provide. So does a gap in your teeth always mean an immediate need for braces or other orthodontic treatment? Before we answer that, let’s discuss what a tooth gap is and what causes it to occur.
The technicalities of a tooth gap
The technical term for a tooth gap is “diastema,” and it can occur anywhere in the mouth, though the gap that occurs in between the upper two front teeth is what most people tend to think of. Gap teeth can result from several different issues, with some of the most common being
- Gum disease – Untreated gum or periodontal disease can cause the teeth to loosen and drift apart over time.
- Thumb-sucking or pacifier use – If your child frequently sucks their thumb or consistently uses a pacifier, this can force the front teeth forward, and push the tongue against the teeth when swallowing, opening up spaces between them.
- Small teeth – Teeth can be too small in proportion to the jaw bone, causing a space. Teeth that are very small or missing may also allow other teeth to spread out, creating gaps in between teeth.
- Tongue thrust – This is a relatively unusual swallowing reflex that occurs when your tongue pushes against the top teeth when swallowing. This can cause tooth gaps to develop over time.
- Missing teeth – If you have missing permanent teeth and don’t have them replaced or utilize a space maintainer, your other teeth will begin to shift and drift, resulting in spacing issues.
- A large frenulum – The frenulum is the soft tissue located between the top two front teeth. If it’s oversized, it can keep the teeth from coming together properly by growing down in between them.
Tooth gaps don’t generally present “symptoms,” as such, but spaces caused by habits like thumb-sucking or extended bottle use, or more serious issues like periodontal disease, will tend to expand or grow with time. The teeth may then become loose, as mentioned above, and discomfort or pain could occur, particularly during biting or chewing.
It’s worth noting that children often have temporary gaps as their baby teeth fall out, but most of these spaces will close as the permanent teeth reach their final positions.
Sometimes, a gap in your teeth may be part of a set of problems that require orthodontic treatment to correct. In other cases, the gap itself is the only problem. There’s more to a gap-toothed smile than aesthetics, though!
Gaps can occur at any point in your life, leading to the possibility of poor tooth alignment since the teeth bordering the gap have nothing to control movement. This can lead to bite problems, facial discomfort and pain, and other dental issues. However, not all gaps are a cause for concern. Smaller gaps that aren’t otherwise an issue can be nothing more than a mild annoyance (or even add a dash of whimsy when to comes to your smile!) But gaps in adults that are too big, or ones that are bordered by unhealthy teeth, can cause new problems or exacerbate existing ones. Also, some patients may feel that treatment is necessary to improve their appearance, even if no other health problems are present.
When a patient seeks orthodontic treatment for a tooth gap, some will choose to get braces, which move the teeth together. Often, no matter where the gap originates, you must wear a full set of braces on both your upper and lower teeth. That’s because moving any teeth affects your entire mouth.
If you have a space because you’re missing teeth, you might also need more extensive repair work done, such as tooth implants or a bridge. This may include dental implants, a bridge, or even a partial denture.
If a large labial frenum is causing the gap, the frenum can be reduced through surgery called a frenectomy. If a frenectomy is done in a younger child, the space may close on its own over time. If it’s done in an older child or an adult, the space may still need to be closed with braces.
Only your orthodontist can determine if your gaps will require treatment, and if so, what kind of treatment. Kaplan Orthodontics are proud to offer a complimentary consultation to help you with this process.
A side note about serious issues
Very rarely, serious conditions can be the cause of gaps in your teeth. Things like tumors in the mouth or jawbone can sometimes cause gaps, as well as untreated gum disease. You might be able to feel or see any abnormal growths or loss, but not always. Regular visits to your dentist or orthodontist can help stop, correct, and prevent further gum disease, as well as detect any other dental issues.
Closing the gap
Treatment for gaps will vary from patient to patient, and will depend on the cause and severity of the case, as well as the goals of the orthodontist and patient. Braces, retainers, oral surgery, and cosmetic dentistry are some of the courses of action that might be recommended to you.
If you’re in the Dunwoody or surrounding area, and find yourself dealing with a gap in your smile, get in touch with our office today to schedule your free initial evaluation. We can take a look and let you know what’s going on, and you can be sure we’ll treat you with the same respect and dignity we extend to all our patients.
Don’t hide your smile away for another day — Kaplan Orthodontics is here to keep your teeth healthy and your mouth happy!