A diastema is a gap or space between two teeth. There can be gaps between any two teeth, but it is particularly common between the upper front teeth.
Causes of gapped teeth
Fraenula are little strings of tissue found underneath the tongue, inside the cheeks near the back teeth, and under the top lip. While an embryo is developing in the womb, these strings of tissue guide the growth of some mouth structures. Once we are born, the fraenula seem to help in positioning the baby teeth.
The fraenum that attaches the top lip to the upper gum is called the maxillary labial fraenum. If you lift up your top lip, you should be able to feel it easily. A maxillary labial fraenum which sits lower than normal is the most common cause of gapped front teeth in the upper jaw. In these cases, the fraenum is attached so far down on the gum that it keeps the two front teeth apart.
Other causes of gapped front teeth can include:
- Natural development – teeth usually have spaces between them when they first come through. The arrival of the canine teeth often closes any gaps.
- Missing teeth – some children are born missing one or two teeth (either baby or adult) in their jawbones, which leaves a space.
- Extra teeth – sometimes there are extra teeth in the bone which can prevent other teeth coming through, leaving a gap. If the extra teeth are removed, this can also leave a gap.
- Small teeth – some children may have small teeth that allow for gaps.
- Large jaws – some children’s jaws are relatively large compared to the size of their teeth.
- Lingual fraenum – this is the fraenum that attaches the tongue to the bottom of the mouth. In some cases of severe tongue-tie (a condition caused by a restrictive fraenum that stops the tongue from poking out past the lips), the fraenum may cause a gap in the front teeth of the lower jaw.
The gap may close by itself
In many cases, a gap between the front teeth in the upper jaw closes by itself.
When the baby teeth start to come through (around six to nine months), the front teeth could have a gap and the fraenum may be attached low to the gum. By the time the child turns one, the fraenum has probably shortened, and more teeth have come through and closed any gaps. If the adult teeth are gapped, the arrival of the large molars (back teeth) help to push the front teeth together.
Complications of gapped front teeth
Complications or side effects of gapped front teeth can include:
- Self-consciousness – some people may feel embarrassed and not want to smile.
- Tooth misalignment – a large gap between the front teeth may not leave enough room for the teeth next to the front teeth to come through. This may cause problems with a person’s bite.
Treatment for gapped teeth
An orthodontist is a dentist who has done additional study to specialise in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of problems in the alignment of teeth and jaws.
Your orthodontist can talk with you about your treatment options. They should be able to advise you whether treatment is needed and if so, what is the most appropriate age to start that work.
Treatment options may include:
- Veneers – a veneer is a type of tooth covering. If the gap is small; veneers that are just a little bit wider than the natural teeth could be used to cover the gap. Veneers are permanently stuck to the tooth surface.
- Removable appliance – such as a plate. This helps to move the teeth closer together.
- Fixed appliance – such as braces. Braces are fixed to the front teeth and rubber bands and wires are used to pull the teeth together.
- Frenectomy – surgery to remove the fraenum that has caused the gap. This is usually done before the gap is closed by orthodontic treatment.
Where to get help
- Your maternal and child health nurse
- Community dental clinics:
- The Royal Dental Hospital of Melbourne:
- General enquiries or to make an appointment Tel. (03) 9341 1000 or 1800 833 039 outside Melbourne metro 8.30 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday
- Dental emergencies Tel. 1300 360 054 8.30 am to 9.15 pm, Monday to Friday, 9 am to 9.15 pm, weekends and public holidays
- Your private dental clinic:
Things to remember
- In many cases, a gap between the front teeth in the upper jaw will close by itself.
- An oral health professional or orthodontist should be able to advise about the need for treatment for a person from about 10 or 11 years of age.
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Dental Health Services Victoria
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