Teeth gaps and how to fix them

Fixed braces are no longer the only practical, affordable way to fix gaps between teeth. Check out invisible aligners – the popular modern alternative.

What is a diastema?

The dental term ‘diastema’ is how dentistry describes the gap or large space which can occur between two or more adjacent teeth. These gap teeth can appear anywhere in your mouth. However, probably the most common of all teeth gap types, and certainly the most noticeable location, is when a space opens up between two large teeth at the front of your upper jaw.

Gaps between teeth can affect adults as well as children. With children’s teeth, gaps are a common feature while a youngster still has so-called baby teeth. But as these first teeth disappear to be replaced by permanent teeth, gaps between the teeth soon disappear also.

Tooth gaps come in many sizes, and smaller gaps may well pass unnoticed by others. Unlike crooked teeth and crowded teeth, there is hardly any medical reason to have treatment for diastema.

Nevertheless, many people may not want to have permanent gaps between their teeth and a prominent tooth gap may not look good and can trap food. That means you may develop tender gums. And if the problem persists, it could develop into gum disease.

From a dentist’s point of view, there are four different type of gapped teeth:

  • Gaps that just occur in the area between your front teeth and your side teeth.

  • Gaps around your canine teeth (the sharp ‘fang’ teeth beside your larger front teeth) – but on one side only.

  • The classic gap which appears between your front teeth.

  • Gaps between teeth all over your mouth.

What causes gaps between the teeth?

There can be quite a few reasons why an individual might develop gaps between the teeth. So, even though you may feel your tooth gaps are not becoming a cosmetic problem, it’s sensible to mention the issue to your dentist – even if only to rule out more serious causes. As mentioned below, teeth gaps can occasionally be an indication of an underlying dental problem – such as gum disease, for example. Gappy teeth may also make it more difficult for you to ‘bite’ correctly, and this poor alignment could, in turn, leave you with a set of teeth that are becoming chipped and broken in places.

The following issues could create a diastema, or tooth gaps could be caused by one or more of the following factors:

  • A mismatch between your teeth and your jawbone: If your teeth are too small for the size of your jawbone, then this could cause gaps to appear between your teeth – because your teeth will naturally be spaced further apart. The characteristics of human jawbones, and indeed the size of human teeth, are largely inherited from your immediate ancestors. That is one reason why it is common to find diastemas regularly appearing among several members of the same family.

  • Smaller teeth or missing teeth: If some of your teeth are much smaller than others or perhaps missing altogether, this can allow a diastema to develop. One area prone to this are the teeth which lie on either side of the two front teeth in your upper jaw – your dentist calls these the upper lateral incisors. Where an incisor is too small or even missing, it’s common for a space to develop in between those upper front teeth.

  • Mouth obstructions: Sometimes individuals can develop extra teeth (hyperdontia), or be left with baby teeth that refuse to fall out. As well as these kinds of obstruction, cysts in the mouth can also create gaps between your teeth.

  • Larger labial frenum region: The area of tissue extending inside your mouth from your upper front lip across to the gum lying immediately above your upper front teeth is known as the labial frenum. When this area of tissue is considerably larger than normal, this can cause gaps to appear in between those upper front teeth.

  • Periodontal (gum) disease: The telltale signs of gum disease include: - tender and swollen gums which are bright red, or even purple, in colour. - gums which tend to bleed very easily, and spitting blood during brushing and flossing. - experiencing pain when chewing your food. - loosening teeth - bad breath. 

  • Tooth movement is a common symptom of advancing gum disease. This is because the inflammation tends to cause damage to the underlying bones, which support your teeth. Sooner or later, your teeth may start to loosen, and gaps can appear between your teeth. 

  • Difficulties with swallowing reflex: With the usual kind of swallowing reflex, your tongue positions itself against the roof of the mouth. When this is converted into an alternative swallowing reflex – one where the tongue effectively pushes against the front teeth – this can bring unexpected pressure to bear on that region. Where this action becomes a habit, the result can be a gradual separation and gaps appearing between your front teeth. Your dentist may call this particular action a ‘tongue thrust’. 

  • Habitual behaviours: Other habits can also create extra pressure strong enough to eventually push the front teeth forward in the mouth. As well as the tongue thrusting mentioned above, these can include thumb sucking, lip sucking, and biting the lower lip – all of which have the potential to cause dental diastemas. Fashionable trends like tooth-piercing can also lead to this. For instance, it is not unknown for adults to habitually place a stud between two teeth, with the inevitable end result being a diastema.

  • Primary tooth loss: As primary teeth grow and fall out during childhood, the loss of these baby teeth often creates temporary diastemas which do no harm. The arrival of permanent, grown-up teeth usually brings about the closure of this type of tooth gap. Dentists consider the formation of such gaps to be part of normal child development. So there is no indication that any kind of treatment or remedial action is necessary.

Is it okay to have a gap between your teeth?

Many people are perfectly OK with a gap between their teeth. In fact, as children lose their primary teeth and grow a set of permanent teeth to replace them, it would be quite unusual if some temporary gaps did not appear as part of that change process.

In the adult world, there have always been well-known people in the public eye who have demonstrated that teeth gaps are perfectly normal or even an important part of their own ‘public persona’. And thinking of other cultures, the French phrase for gappy teeth is ‘dents du bonheur’, in other words ‘lucky teeth’. Elsewhere in the world, gapped teeth have also been associated with good luck, beauty, and fertility.

Within the modern cultural world of art, fashion and music, there is now a strong feeling that absolute perfection is a tired concept. In its place, many feel the really trending concept is a certain irregularity that brings a feeling of soul, character and human warmth to artistic work. As a result, it is now less clear how important over-the-top cosmetic dental perfection really is. So ‘smile gaps’ are treasured by many, and ‘natural flaws’ are making a name for themselves in pop culture.

What this suggests is that there is definitely more than one way to view your own teeth. It’s OK to feel they are part of your own unique character. Yet equally, it’s also OK to look at cosmetic dental treatment if you feel tooth gaps undermine your confidence and/or leave you feeling embarrassed at work or when you’re socialising.

Probably one of the most important considerations is to seek dental advice if you are worried that a diastema might affect your dental health or if you want to know more about possible cosmetic remedies. 

Can gaps between teeth be fixed?

When it comes to gaps between teeth, there is a range of options to choose from. But remember that a diastema does not always require dental intervention. A child’s loss of primary teeth or cases where teeth are too small for the jawbone are examples of situations where a dental solution would rarely be your go-to response.

Dental braces are a classic treatment option for closing a diastema. Though the range of choice is now extensive, braces still operate according to their original design principle: the braces gradually and persistently apply pressure to the teeth surrounding the gap. Over time, this will cause the teeth to shift closer together and close that gap. Popular options for dental braces include:

  • Metal braces: Consisting of brackets, wires and elastic bands, fixed metal braces are a practical way to get the job done. Though they are visible to others, metal braces have had something of a make-over in recent years and now include some colourful elements.

  • Ceramic braces: These upgrade the fixed braces option by using tooth-coloured ceramic materials. When worn with clear crystal brackets, it becomes much easier to disguise the fact you are even wearing fixed dental braces.

  • Lingual braces: These act in the same way as metal and ceramic braces – with one important difference: Lingual braces are fixed on the inside surface of your teeth. That effectively means they will remain out of sight at all times.

  • Invisible aligners: Modern dentistry has come up with invisible braces or aligners as a safe, fast, removable solution for closing teeth gaps without wearing traditional dental braces. For example, PlusDent offers a free 3D scan, a personalised treatment plan designed to achieve the outcome you want, completely transparent German-crafted aligners, and continuous monitoring and support from PlusDent’s team of experienced dentists. This very affordable option is also a popular choice for those who want a solution that is entirely invisible to others.

Once your braces have done their work, your dentist will recommend you wear some form of dental retainer. Retainers help to keep everything in place until your teeth have finally settled down in their new positions. It almost goes without saying that it is very important to wear your retainer(s) exactly as your dentist advises.

Other solutions for gaps between your teeth include dental bonding. This minimally invasive process employs a tooth-coloured resin as a repair material to fill the space.

Cosmetic dentists can also offer custom-made veneers which will hide the gaps or imperfections in your teeth. As a result, you will have an outer layer of thin shell, a tooth-like material that is colour-blended to match your smile.

Sometimes a larger gap left by a missing tooth can be covered by what your dentist calls a bridge. This is essentially an artificial tooth that is held firmly in place by attaching it to the nearest tooth on each side of the gap. 

Beyond cosmetic dentistry, problems such as a mouth cyst or an oversized frenum may require surgery to correct the issue. However, such procedures only prepare the ground, leaving dentists to devise a treatment programme to fix the diastema itself.

How much does it cost to fix gapped teeth?

It’s important to remember the UK’s NHS service won’t normally cover the cost of a diastema closure. Dental braces to close diastema can cost anything between £1,000 and £5,500. This obviously covers a range of different braces, with metal braces being the cheapest and ceramic or lingual braces being more expensive.

When it comes to bonding and veneers – which only hide the gaps rather than repair them – the Dental Guide reports that bonding can cost around £90-£300 per tooth, depending on the precise methods used. A dental bridge may cost between £400 and £1,500, with the actual cost reflecting the complexity of the dental work required. Porcelain veneers which are fixed in front of your teeth to conceal any gaps, will cost around £400 to £700, again according to the nature of the dental work involved. 

PlusDent invisible aligners, the modern alternative to fixed braces, can fix gaps between teeth at a price that accurately reflects the amount of dental correction your tooth gap requires. Prices start at £1,390 for slight adjustments which can be treated in a short space of time, £1,890 for a normal tooth-gap adjustment, and £2,190 for a diastema that requires a more complex treatment programme. In each case, these treatments also offer alternative payment via a series of affordable monthly instalments.