Having gaps between teeth, called diastema, is a very common condition among both children and adults. Gaps can appear between any two teeth for a variety of reasons. The most obvious instances of diastema are when the gaps are situated between the front teeth and, therefore, highly visible whenever the person talks or smiles. However, you or people you know may have gapped teeth and never even realized it due to it being toward the back of your mouth, such as between incisors and molars.
There are several reasons one might have gap teeth, which can be divided into natural and behavioral causes.
1. Jaw size: If the jaw is larger than the what is required by the size of the teeth, naturally gaps will occur. This tends to be why children are likely to develop gaps before they start losing teeth and gaining adult ones. Their baby teeth stay the same size while their jaws grow and, therefore, gaps appear. Ideally, as the larger teeth grow in and replace the baby teeth, this process should occur gradually enough that the jaw has reached close to full size by the time all the adult teeth appear. This is why “twelve-year” molars and wisdom teeth do not show up until the teen years, there is simply no room in your mouth for them before that time! If the jaw grows faster or larger than the adult teeth can accommodate, however, gaps may occur.
2. Tooth size: Occasionally, adult teeth do not fully form before growing in. This can cause gaps not only around the under formed tooth but also between nearby teeth if they spread out in response to the open space.
3. Missing teeth: Some people will experience a phenomenon where an adult tooth never actually forms to take the place of a baby tooth. Others may lose a tooth at some point and not opt to replace it with a dental device. In either case, this will leave a larger gap. Not only will this missing tooth gap exist, but with the extra space available the remaining teeth may slowly spread out and smaller gaps appear.
4. Labial frenum overgrowth: There is a small bit of connective tendon that runs from the lip to the jaw, both on the top and bottom in the very center of your mouth. If this tendon grows too far up (or down) the front of the jaw it can force a gap between the two middle lower or upper teeth.
These are the most common natural causes of tooth gaps, though there are several other potential causes such as having an overbite or developing periodontal disease and tumors. If you are an adult and suddenly seeing gaps in your teeth where there weren’t any before, you may want to consult your dentist to rule out anything nefarious.
“A lot of parents worry when they see gaps between their child’s baby teeth. This is really the ideal situation. It allows room for the larger, permanent teeth to erupt with minimal crowding. When parents need to be concerned is when their child has all of their baby teeth and the teeth look ‘movie star’ perfect with no spaces at all. These children almost always have severely crowded permanent teeth that may require selective extractions in order to wear braces.”
If you are wondering whether or not you can create a tooth gap, there are indeed both unconscious and intentional ways that these can occur.
1. Pacifier or thumb sucking: If a child continues to use a pacifier or suck their thumb past the age where they start to lose their front baby teeth, this can cause gaps. The hours of sucking on these items can cause the teeth to slowly flare out and develop gaps.
2. Tongue thrusting: Some people consistently push their tongue against their front teeth when they swallow. While this has little to no short-term effect, years of this constant outward pressure can cause the teeth to flare out and develop gaps in the same way that pacifier or thumb sucking can.
3. Mouth jewelry: Studies have shown that certain oral piercings, such as a tongue barbell, can result in the wearer developing tooth gaps. As the jewelry is constantly pushed against the teeth from behind, over a time period of several years gaps can be forced.
4. Surgery: Due to an increase of celebrities proudly displaying their tooth gaps, there is a bit of a counter-intuitive movement to create gapped teeth where previously there was none. There is a cosmetic surgery option where the teeth are shaved down a bit to create this gap, though not every dentist or orthodontist is willing to take part in it.
There are several DIY videos and blogs that offer ways to create a tooth gap yourself, but it strongly recommended that you do not attempt this. Only a dentist or orthodontist can properly assess the ability of your jaw to handle this type of cosmetic treatment. Attempting to create a tooth gap yourself can lead to serious complications. Unless your jaw is oversized and you already have gaps in your teeth, there is no wiggle room to start putting in gaps yourself. Without using proper dental veneers to cover the gap or expanding your jaw with a dental appliance first—which is something that is not possible for adults anyway—trying to force a gap will result in crooked teeth.
There will also be much soreness both during the time you are trying to force it and afterward if any damage was done to the roots of your teeth. Teeth are more than just the hard enamel that you can see, there is also a root and nerve system, connective tissue, and a blood supply that keeps everything alive. When teeth are moved too fast or at the wrong angle all of the underlying structure is at risk. Only a dentist or orthodontist is qualified to make these kinds of adjustments to your mouth.
If you are on the other side of this equation and are looking to fix a tooth gap this is very commonly done through orthodontic procedures like braces or with fillings. No matter how your teeth look, whether you have a gap or no gap, your body has done its best to install them in the way that is best for you. If your dentist ever determines that you need some adjusting for your health then take their advice but do not try to take it upon your self to do your own dentistry for cosmetic purposes.