What is Diastema?

A condition that affects both adults and children, diastema refers to a space or gap between teeth.  While these gaps can form anywhere in the mouth, they are most noticeable when they occur between the upper two front teeth.  When present in children, diastema can vanish once permanent teeth grown in.  In some cases, gaps are small and mostly unnoticeable but in other instances, larger gaps can create cosmetic issues.

What Causes a Diastema?

Several factors can contribute to a person developing diastema.  For some, the condition is due to the correlation between the size of their jawbone and teeth.  When the teeth are too small for the jawbone, gaps can form as a result of the teeth being spaced too far apart.  Because the size of a person’s teeth and jawbone can be influenced by genetics, diastema can run in families.

Diastema can also develop as a result of gum issues.  When the tissue bordering the gumline and two upper front teeth is overgrown, gaps form between the teeth as a result of the overgrowth.  Patients suffering from gum disease (infection), can develop diastema when inflammation damages the tissue and gums supporting the teeth.  Gum disease can frequently lead to tooth loss and related gaps between the teeth.  Redness, swelling, loose teeth, bone loss, and bleeding gums, are all signs of gum disease and should be addressed as soon as possible to mitigate any damage.

Habits and swallowing reflexes that place undue pressure on the front teeth, can also contribute to the development of diastema.  A common example in children is thumb sucking.  The sucking motion places pressure on the front teeth leading to them to pull forward and possibly lead to gap formation.  Incorrect swallowing reflexes are another example of behavior that places excessive pressure on the front teeth and can cause separation.  Referred to as tongue thrust by dentists, the tongue can push against the front teeth when swallowing rather than being positioned on the roof of the mouth.

Diastema Treatment

As previously mentioned, some diastema are mostly unnoticeable and depending on the underlying cause for formation, may not necessitate treatment.  One of the more common treatments for diastema are braces.  Braces use metal wires and brackets to put pressure on the teeth and move them together slowly in order to close a gap.  Removable or invisible (Invisalign) braces can also be used to fix some diastema cases.

Patients that don’t want braces, may consider restorations to fill gaps between their teeth.  Using tooth-colored composite materials, bonding or veneers can fill gaps or fit over the teeth to correct the appearance of the smile.  Other patients may find that a dental bridge is an ideal way to correct a gap or replace a missing tooth.

Should the patient be diagnosed with gum disease, treatment will be needed to stop the infection prior to undergoing a procedure to correct the diastema.  Gum disease treatments vary but one of the more common is scaling and root planing.  This treatment will effectively remove hardened plaque (tartar) above and below gumline in order to eliminate the bacteria that caused the disease.

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