Do You Always Need Braces if You Have Gaps in Your Teeth?

Depending on its location, a gap in your teeth can be charming. Gaps between front teeth, medically known as diastemas, are an individual trait that won’t impact the health of your teeth in the long run. But if your gap is placed somewhere else, it can be an issue. In this article, I’ll explain why.

If you have multiple gaps in your teeth as a result of missing teeth, you may need braces and/or implants to correct or close those spaces. If you have small spaces in between most of your teeth (also known as trema), or a large gap in between your front teeth (diastema), braces aren’t mandatory.

You may have always had gaps in your teeth, or you’ve noticed them gradually develop over the years. Teeth aren’t fixed within the bone, so it’s natural to notice changes as we grow older. So what exactly causes gapped teeth, and how can braces help you? Let’s figure it out together.

What causes spaces in between teeth?

Not all gaps between teeth are created equal. Most of the time, they’re signaling a bigger problem, but since gaps are obvious, they’re often the patient’s chief complaint.

However, braces are not always the right solution. Identifying why you have gapped teeth will help us choose the right course of treatment. Here are the main causes:

Large frenulum. If you lift your upper lip, you’ll notice a soft tissue insertion going from your lip to your gums. This is called a frenulum. For some people, this frenulum is thick and its fibers go all the way between the front central incisors. This causes a gap between the front teeth, known as a diastema.

Small teeth or large arches (or both). Sometimes, gaps between teeth are simply a volume issue. Your teeth may be too small to come in contact, or your arches may be too broad. Most often, it’s both. This is hereditary, and most likely a result of inheriting bone structure from one parent and teeth structure from the other.

Periodontal disease. If you notice gaps developing where you didn’t have them before, go to the dentist ASAP. This is often an obvious sign of periodontal disease, especially if you see those gaps in your front teeth. These gaps occur because your teeth are proclining (tilting forward) since they have less bone to support them.

Thumb sucking. Front teeth can also tilt forward because of unhealthy habits like thumb sucking, creating a gap. However, in cases like these, gaps are the least of your problem, as you may have a serious bite issue and long narrow arches that need to be corrected.

Missing teeth. Your missing tooth may be obvious to you, but you may also notice some spaces developing around your missing tooth gap. This is because your teeth will gradually shift into the extraction site, losing contact with their neighbors. These new gaps usually need to be reversed with braces.

Peg-shaped laterals. Oddly shaped teeth like peg-shaped laterals can give the impression of gaps between teeth, although they often come in contact with other teeth at a gingival level. Braces are often not the best course of action.

Phase 1 orthodontic treatment. Braces can create gaps too, but we often create them intentionally, as part of orthodontic treatment. If you need expanders, expect a large gap between your front teeth. But don’t worry, your orthodontist will fix it soon enough.

When do you need to treat gapped teeth?

You don’t always need to correct gaps in your teeth. Sometimes they’re just cosmetic, in which case, it’s totally up to you to have them fixed. But when spaces interfere with your overall oral health, it’s best to get braces.

Talk to your dentist or orthodontist about braces if:

  • You have gaps and your bite is off. In case of malocclusion, you will need braces anyway, and your orthodontist will implicitly close your gaps. It’s possible to correct your bite at any age, so don’t worry too much about getting braces as an adult.
  • You have periodontal disease. Your best bet is a multidisciplinary approach: a periodontist, dentist, and orthodontist will work on your case to make sure your gaps are closed and your teeth are stable.
  • You have old extraction sites. Check this article to learn why you can and should get braces if you have missing teeth. We can either maintain the space for an implant or close it if you’re a good candidate.
  • You have a large diastema. While it’s not mandatory to treat diastemas, braces are the only way to reliably close that pesky front gap. You may need to have your frenulum severed or removed (doesn’t hurt, don’t worry), and you’ll need to be very diligent with your retainers, as diastemas have a tendency to reopen.

Can you fix gap teeth without braces?

If you have multiple spaces in between your teeth because of small teeth and broad arches, braces may not work for you. Not only is it incredibly difficult to close these spaces, but it’s also hard to keep them closed.

The same goes for peg shaped laterals. The gap is a tooth shape issue and it should be treated as such.

If your chief complaint is cosmetic, it’s best to turn to your dentist instead, and ask for:

  • Bonding – adding composite to the sides of the teeth;
  • Veneers – a thin construction of porcelain over minimally prepped teeth;
  • Crowns – a porcelain cap on top of prepped teeth.

You may have a gap because of a recent tooth extraction, in which case it’s best to get an implant right away.

FAQs

Do you need braces if you Just have a gap in between your front teeth?

If your front gap isn’t bothering you and your bite is otherwise healthy, then no, you won’t be needing braces. However, if your diastema is so large that it’s causing speech issues, or you notice that your teeth are very tilted forward, it would be a good idea to see an orthodontist.

How fast do braces close gaps?

Depending on the difficulty of your case, braces can close gaps in 12 to 24 months. If you need full braces, the mean duration of treatment is 24 months, because you’ll most likely need other corrections too. If you only have a small gap to close, aligners can work faster, but they’ll still need to shift most of your teeth to do it.

I need braces but I like my gap and want to keep it. Is that possible?

While it’s technically possible to keep your front gap open, it’s not stable or advisable in the long term. At the end of orthodontic treatment, your doctor won’t be able to place a fixed retainer, and relying on a removable Essix retainer in the long term could cause your teeth to shift into the gap. It’s always best to have teeth that are in contact with each other.

However, if you’ve always had a large diastema, they’re notoriously difficult to keep closed (60% of them relapse), because the frenulum fibers tend to regenerate, so keeping this space open may be a good idea.

Conclusion

You may flaunt your front teeth gap and think it’s cute, but if you’re reading this article, it’s most likely bothering you. Correcting it is totally up to you, and leaving it alone won’t harm your teeth. But it still doesn’t hurt to check with your orthodontist to see if you have any underlying issues that you don’t know about.

Whether you’re new to braces or a braces veteran, taking care of your teeth and gums 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:

  • An awesome mid-range electric toothbrush. Rotating electric brushes are much more effective, in my opinion, than sonic ones. You can keep your teeth white by using whitening replacement heads.
  • A countertop water flosser to blast out food debris between teeth. I know handheld models are tempting, but you’ll need a lot of water. You can almost replace flossing with this and your gums will be healthier.
  • Braces accessories to get into all the nooks and crannies: straight or angled interdental brushes, floss threaders, orthodontic wax or silicone. For pain management, have gel ice packs handy, Orajel, and Mouth Magic (a cool soothing solution for mouth sores).
  • For clear aligner patients, a tool like PUL helps both remove and seat your aligner or retainer. Don’t forget to use a cleaning product like crystals to keep your trays fresh and hygienic.

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