A diastema is a term used to describe the existence of a space (or spaces) between the upper front teeth (called the incisors). Diastemas are common in children and can exist in adults as well. Diastemas are primarily caused by an imbalance in the relationship between the jaw and the size of the teeth. If the labiel frenulum (lip tissue) pulls, it can also push the teeth apart and cause a diastema between the centre of the two front teeth.
Diastema in Children
Diastema is very common in children. It has been estimated that up to 97% of all 5-year-old children have diastema, and as many as 50 per cent of kids between ages 6 and 8. There are many causes for these diastemas, and typically the spaces close naturally as children age. However, the diastemas can cause aesthetic concerns, as well as affect speech and facial balance in some cases.
Causes of Diastema in Children
Diastemas are a natural part of dental development. At around age 8, the unerupted lateral incisors begin to develop and push against the roots of the erupted incisors. When the central incisors are pushed, spaces can appear between them. These spaces exist until the upper eye teeth grow, and force the teeth together to close the diastema. This generally happens around age 12.
Diastemas may also occur in children with small lateral incisor teeth (because the small teeth allow the central incisors to separate, creating a space or diastema) or an overbite that causes the upper teeth to jut out instead of remaining straight. When the teeth jut out instead of pushing against each other, spaces begin to form. If the tongue is too large, (caused by a genetic condition called macroglossia), it may push the incisors forward, causing this jutting effect.
A hormonal imbalance in the endocrine gland can cause the jaw to be abnormally large while the teeth remain normal in size, causing spaces to appear between the teeth. Finally, excessive distal crown angulation can occur when the teeth angle too much to the side, creating a small diastema between the central front incisors.
Habits That Create Diastemas
Certain habits can lead to the creation of a diastema and/or exacerbate conditions that are likely to cause a diastema. Biting your lower lip or having flaccid lips may cause the upper tooth to jut out, causing a diastema when the teeth no longer press against each other. Holding the tongue improperly, and/or forcing the tongue forward between the teeth, can also adversely affect the position of the incisors.
Diastemas can occur in adults as well, when spaces occur between the central incisors. Generally, maxillary spaces occur between the incisors as a result of movement caused by the loss of alveolor bone. This is a periodontal condition.
Abnormally small incisors are another cause of adult diastema. Adults with diastema were found to have incisors that were approximately 77.2% of the size of their maxillary teeth.
The normal treatment for a diastema consists of orthodontic techniques that close the space. The incisors may be moved closer together, and the jutting or the protrusion of the teeth may be corrected. An aesthetic solution without the use of orthodontia may involve using artificial material to close the gap between the teeth, and/or making the front teeth appear larger than they are.