The diastema can be a distinguishing beauty asset or a dental problem that needs to be eliminated, depending on who you are and the circumstances. A diastema is a space separating the teeth, more commonly known as a gap. When the gap is between the anterior, or front teeth, it is prominent and may or may not affect how an individual feels about his or her smile.
The gapped tooth look is considered an imperfection by some standards, yet others embrace their gap as part of their persona. Many celebrities have or have had gapped teeth and some of them have made it fashionable. Madonna, Michael Strahan, Anna Paquin, Eddie Murphy, Elijah Wood and Anthony Anderson are just a few of the popular celebrities sporting gaps. Other well-known public figures once had gapped teeth in the early stages of their career and then later decided to close it.
Choosing to close a natural anterior diastema is a matter of preference. If you feel uncomfortable with it, or you do not like the way it affects your smile, you can always choose to close it. On the other hand, you may see it as a distinctive feature that sets you apart and adds a certain je ne sais quoi to your appearance. Sometimes it is better for an individual’s oral health to get the gaps closed.
Types of Diastemas
Spaces between two or more teeth is not necessarily a bad thing. Some gaps can hardly be seen while others are noticeably large. The midline diastema, the gap between the upper front teeth, is the most common type. In fact, most children around the age of six have a midline diastema. Midline gaps in primary teeth are very common. When anterior permanent teeth erupt, the number decreases from 98% to about 49%. The gap closes for most children during their teenage years. Only about 7% of 18-year-old adolescents retain a midline gap.
Gaps are not limited to the front teeth. They can occur between any teeth in the mouth. Some individuals have gaps between all their teeth. In this rare occurrence, the gaps can be large or small. Genetics can play a role in creating these types of diastemas. When the jawbone is larger and the teeth are smaller in size, gaps are created between the teeth.
Causes of Diastemas
Gaps between teeth can be the result of various factors. A diastema could be the result of genetics or it could be related to skeletal development. Some diastemas are created by bad habits. Common factors resulting in gaps include:
Heredity – In this case a person inherits a jawbone that is too large for the size of his or her permanent teeth. Diastemas can be limited to the midline or a few teeth in the front. In some situations, there may be gaps between all the permanent teeth. Genetics play a role in the size of the teeth and jawbone. When diastemas are genetic, they can show up through the generations.
Gum Disease, Gum Tissue Overgrowth – Even though it is soft, gum tissue can create gaps between teeth. This happens when there is an overgrowth of the tissue between two or more teeth. Gingival hyperplasia, or gum enlargement, is a condition that develops with advanced gum disease. In severe cases, this condition can lead to gaps forming between teeth. Gingival overgrowth can also be caused by some medical conditions and vitamin deficiencies.
Oversized Frenum – The tissue that connects the inside of the upper lip to the gum is called the labial frenum. Sometimes this tissue can be larger than normal, and it may cause a midline gap. The dentist may clip the frenum to allow the teeth to move into position. Some dentists will cut the frenum and reposition it to allow for more flexibility.
Other Causes – Diastemas can also be caused by habits. The bones of children grow at a fast rate and are somewhat malleable. When a child is allowed to use a pacifier or bottle too long, the practice could result in gaps between the anterior teeth. The same is true of finger sucking and thumb sucking. An “open bite” can be formed because the front teeth are not able to align correctly at the midline. This creates a gap.
To Close or Not to Close
Making the choice to close a gap depends on a few different factors. First is the age of the patient. As mentioned earlier, most children have gaps between their primary teeth and for most, those gaps are closed by the time they reach young adulthood. After that, it is a matter of choice.
In general, midline diastemas pose no health threat. The only concern is a matter of aesthetics. Are you comfortable with the gap between your front teeth or not? If you would rather have it closed, there are options available.
Orthodontics – Gaps between teeth are considered a misalignment issue and can be treated using orthodontics. Braces can be used to close the gaps or clear aligners can be used. Invisalign® is most popular. Many people choose clear aligners because they are discreet and do not require changes in diet or oral hygiene habits.
For small gaps, a retainer may be recommended instead of braces. Your dentist will determine if this treatment will work for your diastema. When misalignments are moderate to severe, orthodontics may be advised over cosmetic treatments.
Cosmetic approaches – Dental bonding is also a common solution to closing small gaps between teeth. It is an affordable treatment option than can be performed quickly with good results. In the bonding process, the tooth is prepared with a special bonding agent. Tooth-colored composite resin is adhered to the tooth and a special curing light is used to harden the resin. The teeth are widened slightly to close the gap and the results look and feel natural.
Dental veneers are another approach using cosmetic dentistry. In this procedure, thin shells of either composite or porcelain are adhered to the teeth. They can improve your smile by altering the appearance of your teeth. It is important to understand that veneers are a permanent solution, and they may need to be replaced over a period time. Patients choosing veneers can expect to incur replacement costs in the future.
Closing Food Traps
Cleaning teeth with gaps can be challenging unless you are committed to a meticulous oral hygiene regime. Small gaps create food traps and provide a place for plaque buildup. This can lead to gingivitis and more severe periodontal disease if not treated. Food traps can also provide a ripe environment for dental decay to develop. Closing the gaps between your teeth may be advisable if keeping the hard-to-reach areas clean is a problem.
Diastemas can be a nuisance or an asset, depending on your point of view. A consultation with your dentist may help you decide whether to close the gap or not. Gaps that are difficult to clean should most likely be treated to preserve your best oral health.
Regular dental checkups and professional cleanings will help keep all your teeth and gums in good condition. For those individuals with gaps, it is highly recommended that you keep up with your regular dental examination so questionable areas can be monitored and treated if necessary.
Aesthetic & Implant Dentistry of Atlanta offers a variety of options for treating diastemas. If you are considering closing your gap, give us a call. Schedule an appointment for a consultation and we will be happy to explore your options.