What Is Diastema?

Noticeable Gaps Between The Teeth

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Diastema is a condition involving a noticeable gap between the teeth that is wider than 0.5 millimeters (0.02 inch). Most commonly, these gaps occur in the front teeth, but diastema can involve the back teeth as well. A diastema is very common in childhood until the permanent teeth come in. When present in the permanent teeth, it can be corrected for aesthetic or functional reasons.

Symptoms

When the gaps occur in the lower teeth, it’s referred to as mandibular diastema. A space between the upper or lower central incisors (two front teeth) is called midline diastema. The presence of a gap between the two maxillary (upper) central incisors is called a maxillary midline diastema (MMD).

According to a 2011 report published in the Journal of American Dental Association (JADA), there is a very wide range of incidence of MMD. The report showed that between 1.6% to 25.4% of adults from various age groups and populations presented with MMD. The report also discovered an increase in prevalence of MMD in African Americans with MMD (compared to Caucasians, Asians or Hispanics).

MMD is considered normal development in children and does not require treatment. In fact, according to a 2013 report published by the POJ Dental and Oral Care journal. midline diastemas occur in approximately 98% of 6-year-olds, 49% of 11-year-olds, and 7% of 12–18-year-olds. So, as a child ages, the incidence of MMD decreases.

Causes

There are several contributing factors that may play into the cause of diastema, these include:

  • Teeth that are too small for the mandible (lower jawbone) or maxilla bone (upper jaw bone), resulting in gaps between the teeth
  • A mandible (jaw) that is too big, resulting in improper alignment of the teeth (because there is too much space, causing gaps)
  • Hereditary factors that come into play because the size of a person’s teeth and jaw bones is influenced by genetics and can run in families
  • Overgrowth of the frenum (the skin between the top lip and the front teeth) which can cause a gap (diastema) between the two front teeth
  • Periodontitis (severe gum disease caused by poor dental hygiene) can lead to bone loss in the jaw; the bone loss ends up allowing the teeth to shift, creating gaps. Note, symptoms of periodontitis include red, swollen, bleeding gums, loose teeth and bone loss.
  • Peg lateral is a condition in which the second incisor (a tooth located next to the very front two teeth) develops improperly; the defective tooth is very small and pointed, causing gaps on either side. Note, a peg lateral can be repaired with crowns, veneers or implants.
  • Thumb sucking which commonly causes a midline diastema (a gap between either the upper or lower two central teeth)
  • Tongue thrusting which often causes mandibular (lower jaw) diastemas from the tongue pushing against the two central lower teeth

Thumb sucking and tongue thrusting can be corrected to prevent diastema.

Diagnosis

A diagnosis of diastema is made by a dentist who performs an oral examination. Keep in mind that children commonly have gaps in their teeth that don’t require treatment; these gaps will resolve themselves as the child grows and the permanent teeth come in. The adult teeth are larger and often naturally fill in the spaces. But if gaps are left after the permanent teeth come in, a dentist should be consulted.

Getting treatment can help a person's self-esteem and lend itself to improving the overall quality of life for many people. In fact, a 2014 study found that among young people who had a correction of midline diastema, 50% reported that the procedure remarkably improved their quality of life.

Fixing the spaces between the teeth may not only improve a person's self image, it can also restore the normal functionality of the teeth. Any type of space can cause misalignment of the teeth. Biting and chewing problems may result. This can disrupt a person's ability to eat and digest food properly, impacting your overall health. By filling the gaps between the teeth, the proper structure of the mouth is restored.

Treatment

If you decide against having restorative or orthodontic treatment to repair diastema, keep in mind that any time there are gaps between the teeth, additional oral hygiene may be needed. This is because often food becomes trapped. Some experts recommend the use of a water flosser to make it easier to clean between the teeth.

For most people, the repair of diastema is a painless, uncomplicated process. There are several treatment methods that can close the gaps in the teeth; in fact, according to Dentaly.org each person’s case is individual, and the dental care practitioner will formulate a treatment plan, depending on several factors. These include:

  • Where the gaps are located
  • How many teeth are involved
  • How large the gaps are
  • If there are missing teeth
  • The underlying cause of the gaps (such as peg lateral, a condition involving an adjacent tooth that is too small or periodontal disease)
  • The overall health of the teeth
  • The patient's desire for corrective treatment
  • More

The dentist will formulate a plan for the best treatment for diastema, depending on a person’s individual situation. Next, the dentist will discuss the treatment options with the patient, going over the benefits and drawbacks of each option. Examples of
treatment options for diastema include:

Braces can be used to move the teeth and close the gaps; braces are commonly used for large gaps. Braces are only an option after all the adult teeth have erupted.

Invisible braces such as Invisalign is a treatment option for those who do not want braces to be visible. They are a treatment option for those with mild to moderate gaps. Invisible braces are removable, so they are a good option for people who are in the public eye (such as professional speakers, actors, models or more).

At-home clear aligners are a cheaper version of invisible braces that have been used to close small gaps between the teeth. Clear aligners are less expensive, more comfortable and aesthetic than metal braces. But there is controversy as to the safety of at-home clear aligners, particularly when an orthodontist is not consulted, because they can cause severe complications in some instances (such as when a person has periodontal disease). Keep in mind that there are very few published studies about the safety or effectiveness of at-home clear aligners (which differ from clear aligners used by professionals such as Invisalign).

Veneers or composite bonding are two methods for treating diastema. Veneers and composite bonding involve a layer of material (such as a porcelain or composite material) placed over the tooth. A composite material is a substance made from two or more materials with significantly different chemical properties. When combined, these materials harden to form a hard, tooth-like substance. Veneers and composite bonding are best used for closing just one or two gaps.

Porcelain veneers may be used to fill small gaps between teeth, a dentist will make the veneer (tooth covering) larger than the tooth, so that the excess material will fill in the space. There are normally two visits required to get veneers; one visit will involve the dentist preparing for the veneer to be made and the final visit will be needed for the dentist to fit the veneer/s once they are made by the lab.

Composite bonding/veneers involves a synthetic material made by the dentist that fits over the tooth. The procedure does not usually require a second visit because the dentist builds the composite, giving it the right shape and appearance during the office visit. When the entire tooth is covered by composite material it is called a composite veneer. In either instance, there is usually just one visit needed for the procedure, because the lab is not involved in making the veneer.

Crowns or bridges crowns may be used as an option to fill in large spaces or when the tooth (located next to the gap) is cracked, chipped or otherwise damaged. Dental bridges may be used when there are missing teeth. Crowns and bridges can help to restore the proper bite and chewing functionality.

Periodontal procedures in some instances orthodontia or restorative treatment (such as veneers or crowns) alone will not fix the problem, but periodontal procedures (such as scaling, surgical or other treatment of the gums) may be necessary.

DIY Not Recommended

Some people have been known to try to close the gaps between teeth themselves by using rubber bands. According to the experts, there is really no way of effectively performing a do-it-yourself procedure at home. In fact, some types of self-treatment (such as using rubber bands) can even be harmful.

A Word From Verywell

Under most circumstances, diastema repair is a relatively quick and painless procedure. Some people with diastema are perfectly OK with their appearance and do not feel that they need to undergo the time or take on the expense of having treatment. The decision should be made according to the dentist’s recommendation (particularly when there are underlying dental problems) and, when it’s simply a matter of aesthetics, according to your needs and expectations.

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Article Sources
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