A diastema describes the space or gap between two teeth, and it appears most often between the two upper front teeth, also known as a midline diastema. However, these gaps can occur between any pair of teeth. Thankfully, a diastema usually causes no harm to you or your oral health, but many choose to treat it for cosmetic reasons. Learn more about what causes a diastema and the best treatment options.
What Is a Diastema and How Do You Treat It?
Several factors can contribute to a gap in your smile. Some of these are genetic, and some originate from bad habits. These factors include:
- Physiological developments. Sometimes, a mismatch between the jawbones' size and the teeth' size can cause extra space between teeth. Sometimes teeth are missing altogether. Other times, teeth are undersized, which usually happens with the upper lateral incisors (the teeth next to the two upper front teeth). Children may also have temporary gaps as their baby teeth fall out. Most of these spaces close as their permanent teeth reach their final positions.
- Oversized labial frenum. The labial frenum is a muscle that usually extends from the inside of your upper lip to the gumline just above your two upper front teeth. Sometimes, the labial frenum continues to grow and passes between the two front teeth. If this happens, it blocks the ability for these teeth to close naturally.
- Habits. For younger children, thumb sucking tends to pull the teeth forward, creating gaps. These spaces can also develop from an incorrect swallowing reflex. When most people swallow, the tongue presses against the roof of the mouth. However, some people press their tongue against their front teeth when they swallow. This is known as a tongue thrust. Over time, this pressure pushes the front teeth forward and can causes spaces to develop.
- Periodontal disease. Periodontal disease, also known as gum disease, can result in bone loss that supports the teeth. If a person loses enough bone, the teeth can become loose and cause gaps to form.
Suppose your diastema occurs because of the size of your teeth or labial frenum. In that case, you are unlikely to experience any symptoms. However, spaces caused by tongue thrusting or periodontal disease may expand or grow with time. The teeth can become loose, causing discomfort or pain, particularly when biting or chewing.
If you notice a space between your teeth when brushing or flossing or your dental professional brings it up during an examination, know that there are several treatment options for closing the gap. Your dental professional can help you identify the best treatment for your diastema based on the cause.
- Orthodontic treatment. Sometimes a diastema is one of many problems that require orthodontic treatment. An orthodontist may recommend braces to move the teeth together. Often a full set of braces — on both upper and lower teeth — is needed because moving any teeth affects your entire mouth.
- Bonding or veneers. If your teeth are too small, your dental professional may suggest widening by using veneers or bonding. These cosmetic dental procedures improve teeth' appearance by using a tooth-colored composite to fill the gaps or fit over the tooth.
- Artificial teeth. If missing teeth cause your space, you might need more extensive dental repair. Dental implants, bridges, or partial dentures can replace any teeth lost to injury or disease.
- Frenectomy. If an oversized labial frenum is causing the gap, surgery — known as a frenectomy — can reduce the frenum's size. When a younger child has a frenectomy, the diastema may close on its own. However, an older child or an adult may still need the gap closed with braces.
- Periodontal treatment. If periodontal disease causes your diastema, your dental professional must work to restore your gum health before he or she can make any cosmetic changes. Your dental professional will decide on the best treatment for gum disease. This may include scaling and root planing to remove hardened plaque from above and below the gumline. Severe periodontal disease may even require surgery.
If you have a space between your teeth or see one in your child's mouth, talk with your dentist. He or she will determine the reason for the diastema and may refer you to an orthodontist or a periodontist, depending on the cause. Treatment — if needed — may not begin right away. You and your dental professional will discuss the overall treatment plan.
This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.