Diastemas and Children

Commonly known as a gap between teeth, a diastema is one of the more common dental conditions found in both children and adults.  Gaps can form anywhere in the mouth but are most common between the top two front teeth.  Roughly half of children six years and younger, will have gaps between their front teeth so parents may be curious about the cause and treatments options for combating a diastema.  Throughout this article, we will investigate diastemas in children in an effort to better inform parents on the condition.

Causes of Diastemas in Children

Natural Development:  Like many health conditions, genetics can impact the development of a diastema.  Parents that have diastemas of their own, may find that their children develop gaps in their teeth as well.  In some cases, the size of a child’s teeth and jaws are mismatched creating a gap.  For example, extra room in the mouth can occur if the child’s teeth are small but they have a large jaw.  This mismatch allows shifting of the teeth and may result in a gap.

Bad Habits:  The two most common habits that influence diastema formation in children are thumb sucking and tongue thrust.  The pressure associated with thumb sucking, can cause the front teeth to push forward and lead to gaps.  Tongue thrust, also referred to as reverse or immature swallow), is another common contributor to diastemas that results from improper positioning of the tongue when swallowing.  Rather than placing the tongue on the roof of the mouth when swallowing, children with tongue thrust push the tongue against their front teeth.  Over time, the repeated forward pressure from the incorrect swallowing behavior can lead to separation between the front teeth.  By breaking children of these habits, parents may be able to avoid the diastema from forming.

Frenum Issues:  The maxillary labial frenum is a small strip of connective tissue between the upper lip and gum tissue between the two upper front teeth.  When this frenulum is too large, the child’s teeth are kept apart causing a gap to form.

Treating Diastema in Children

Formation of Permanent Teeth:  As previously mentioned, a diastema is very common in younger children.  However, some diastemas may self-correct once primary teeth (baby teeth) fall out and are replaced with permanent teeth (adult teeth).  Dentist consider this a natural developmental process and as such, typically avoid treatment until it is known if the condition exists once permanent teeth erupt.

Braces:  The extent of the diastema and number of teeth involved, will determine whether a partial or complete set of braces are needed for the child.  For smaller, less extensive gaps, a partial set of braces may be used on the top six front teeth to alleviate the spaces.  But if the diastema is more severe or is coupled with other dental problems, a full set of braces may be called for.

Frenectomies:  If the child’s diastema is due to an enlarged frenulum, a surgical procedure known as a frenectomy may be performed which removes the excessive tissue creating the gap.

Other Cosmetic Procedures:  Should the child’s diastema not be correctable through the treatments discussed, other cosmetic procedures are available including dental bonding, dental implants, or dental veneers.

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