What is diastema?

Diastema refers to a gap or space between the teeth. These spaces can form anywhere in the mouth, but are sometimes noticeable between the two upper front teeth. This condition affects both adults and children. In children, gaps may disappear once their permanent teeth grow in.

Some gaps are small and barely noticeable, whereas other gaps are larger and a cosmetic issue for some people. If you don’t like the way the gap looks, there are ways to close it or reduce its size.

Causes of a diastema

There isn’t one single cause of diastema, but rather several possible contributing factors. In some people, this condition is related to the size of their teeth and the size of their jaw bone. Gaps may form when a person’s teeth are too small for the jaw bone. As a result, teeth are spaced too far apart. The size of your teeth and jaw bone can be determined by genetics, so diastema can run in families.

You may also develop diastema if there’s an overgrowth of the tissue that borders your gum line and your two upper front teeth. This overgrowth causes a separation between these teeth, resulting in a gap.

Certain bad habits may also trigger a gap between the teeth. Children who suck their thumb may form a gap because the sucking motion puts pressure on the front teeth, causing them to pull forward.

In older children and adults, diastema can develop from incorrect swallowing reflexes. Rather than the tongue positioning itself at the roof of the mouth while swallowing, the tongue may push against the front teeth. Dentists refer to this as a tongue thrust. This may seem like a harmless reflex, but too much pressure on the front teeth can cause a separation.

Diastemas can also develop from gum disease, which is a type of infection. In this case, inflammation damages the gums and tissue supporting the teeth. This can lead to tooth loss and gaps between teeth. Signs of gum disease include red and swollen gums, bone loss, loose teeth, and bleeding gums.

Treatment of a diastema

Treatment for a diastema may or may not be necessary depending on the underlying cause. For some people, a diastema is nothing more than a cosmetic issue and it doesn’t indicate a problem like gum disease.

Braces are a common treatment for diastema. Braces have wires and brackets that put pressure on teeth and slowly move them together, which closes a gap. Invisible or removable braces may also fix some cases of diastema.

If you don’t want braces, talk to your doctor about cosmetic procedures to fill gaps between your teeth. Veneers or bonding is another option. This procedure uses a tooth-colored composite which can either fill gaps or fit over teeth to improve the appearance of your smile. This procedure is also useful for fixing a cracked or chipped tooth. You may also be a candidate for a dental bridge, which can replace a missing tooth or correct a gap.

If the gums above your two upper front teeth overextend and cause a gap, surgery to remove excess tissue can correct the gap. You may need braces to fully close larger gaps.

If your doctor diagnoses you with gum disease, you must receive treatment to stop the infection before you seek treatment to close a gap. Treatment for gum disease varies, but may include scaling and root planing to remove hardened plaque (tartar) from above and below the gums. This eliminates the bacteria causing the disease.

Severe gum disease may require surgery to remove tartar that has accumulated deep within the gums. Surgery can also involve bone and tissue regeneration.

Outlook and prevention of diastemas

For those who seek treatment for a diastema, the outlook is positive. Many procedures can successfully close a gap. Additionally, treatments for gum disease can restore bone health and stop inflammation.

Some diastemas aren’t preventable. But there are ways to reduce the risk of developing a gap. This includes helping your children break a thumb-sucking habit, learning proper swallowing reflexes, and practicing good oral hygiene. Make sure you brush and floss on a regular basis, and see a dentist twice a year for regular cleanings and dental examinations.