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You’re in the middle of orthodontic treatment and you’re starting to notice a couple of gaps that weren’t there before. Before you get too worried, this is normal and sometimes even necessary. Your orthodontist will take care of your gaps soon.
Braces can cause temporary gaps between teeth, especially front teeth. Some gaps are intentionally created so we can fit a crooked tooth back on the arch, while other gaps appear because of the expansion that happens during orthodontic treatment.
Your orthodontist will start closing your gaps as soon as your teeth are aligned, and will check for small gaps before taking your braces off. In some cases, though, you can see small gaps appear after braces come off. We’ll cover it all in this article, so keep reading.
Gaps during braces: they’re to be expected
It may come as a great surprise to you to go from crooked teeth to spaces between teeth while wearing braces, but it happens all the time. Here are a few mechanisms through which gaps appear during orthodontic treatment:
Misaligned, rotated teeth need a little extra space for correction. This is true for traditional braces, but especially true for clear aligners. Aligners work by creating enough space to facilitate alignment and then closing those gaps at a later stage. With braces, we use a small spring called coil spring (open coil/push coil) that pushes teeth apart and creates a gap between them.
Impacted teeth need space to get pulled on the arch. If you have a missing canine that’s impacted deep within the bone, the first thing we’ll do right after bonding it is to create plenty of space. You need to mentally prepare yourself to have a gap in place, but correcting an impacted tooth is well worth it.
Expect gaps if you have narrow arches and relatively straight teeth. In our practice, we deal with narrow arches all the time. They’re the reason teeth become crooked or bites get imbalanced. The archwires we place during treatment – especially the thicker ones – are meant to broaden arches and change their shape. This creates a lot of space, especially in the front, and if you don’t have a lot of crowding you might see some gaps appear.
Expect gaps if you have an expander. Whether you’re wearing a miniscrew-supported expander as an adult, or your child is wearing an expander as part of Phase 1 treatment, expect to see a large gap between your front teeth. Your orthodontist should have warned you about this, and a large gap is a good thing. It means the expansion is working as planned, and soon enough your teeth will come together.
The last reason for seeing gaps is missing teeth or correcting missing teeth, but it’s the kind of gap you’re probably already used to. Check this article on when and why you should get braces if you have missing teeth.
When will my orthodontist start closing those gaps?
You might be wondering why your orthodontist is so relaxed about your front gaps when they make you so self-conscious. It may be that it’s just not time to close them yet.
We have an order of doing things with braces, and while some orthodontists close gaps from the very beginning, using light forces, many choose to do this on a thicker archwire. Closing gaps on a strong wire will help prevent any teeth from tipping or moving the wrong way.
We can start closing spaces as late as a full year after starting braces if we have other, more pressing problems to correct – like aligning, leveling, and correcting your bite. But don’t worry, your orthodontist will get there.
Can you still have gaps after braces?
Sometimes, your dentist or orthodontist may unintentionally leave a tiny space between teeth after taking your braces off. This often happens because of gingivitis. Swollen, puffy gums are a common problem during orthodontic treatment and they can cause gaps to appear.
When gums are swollen, despite applying pressure, we can’t completely close the space between teeth. This may leave you with small gaps that aren’t visible until the gums heal. And your gums won’t heal unless we take the braces off, so it’s a Catch-22.
If you’re bothered by the small gap that’s left after braces, you can ask for a quick aligner and have it fixed once everything is nice and healed. However, this may come at an extra cost.
Another reason for gaps after braces is orthodontic relapse. If you’ve had braces to correct a diastema (a large gap between front teeth), and you missed wearing your retainer for multiple weeks, you could notice that gap reopening. Diastemas are caused by thick fibrous tissue that grows between teeth, and that tissue can grow back even if you have it removed, putting pressure on your front teeth.
Teeth shift throughout our lifetime and because of this, we treat relapse cases all the time. So if you’re dealing with a gap that you want to close, don’t be afraid to get braces for a second time, after you’ve discussed it with your orthodontist and weighed the pros and cons.
Lastly, it’s common for spaces to reopen between your back teeth if you’ve had extractions. Many orthodontic cases call for extractions, but the space we get is often more than we need. While we have tools to close the excess space, it can reopen in time, especially in the bottom teeth. This translates into small gaps behind your premolars or molars where food can get stuck.
Closing spaces in your back teeth is more complicated, so if the spaces are small it’s best to just get a new retainer and keep the spaces clean, rather than go through another round of braces.
You may see gaps between your front teeth and think your treatment is going in the wrong direction, but that’s really not the case. If you want that wide, picture-perfect smile, you need to accept your gaps as part of the journey.
If you’re seeing gaps after getting your braces off, it’s not too late to get them fixed, but you have to ask yourself if it’s really worth it. Sometimes it’s best to just get a new retainer and call it a day.
Whether you’re new to braces or a braces veteran, taking care of your teeth (and your health) during orthodontic treatment is crucial. That’s why I’ve put together a list of orthodontist-recommended tools that will make caring for your braces a breeze: