Gap teeth: worth the cost to fix?
Your dentist can perform a consultation to see if you’re a candidate for veneers. (Photo by Katie Jacewicz)
Gap teeth are one of the most common cosmetic dental problems, but they stem from a broad variety of underlying causes. It's possible to cosmetically or surgically address these dental issues, but are the methods worth the cost?
Causes of gaps in teeth
The technical term for a tooth gap is diastema, from the Greek stem diastanai, meaning "to stand apart." A gap can occur anywhere in the mouth. Dentists often treated a gap when it occurs in the top row of teeth along the front and is visible whenever you open your mouth or smile.
Gap teeth can result from several issues. First, teeth may be too small in proportion to the jaw bone, causing a space. Very small or missing teeth may also allow other teeth to spread out, causing one or more gaps. Sucking your thumb in childhood can force front teeth forward, causing a gap, as well as pushing your tongue against your teeth when you swallow. If the tissue located above two front teeth (the labial frenum) is oversized, it may cause a gap by growing between these teeth. Gum disease can also create a space as teeth loosen due to bone loss. While most gaps begin to form in childhood, gum disease can cause problems at any age.
Methods and costs of fixing a gap
You have a host of options when it comes to fixing your tooth gap, and these options can vary in cost and effectiveness. The least expensive are teeth effect bands, which cost between $5 and $30. You slip these rubber bands over your teeth at night, causing them to draw closer together. Orthodontists warn, however, that the process may be painful and could pull other straight teeth out of alignment.
It's also possible to fix gaps cosmetically through the use of dental bonding or dental veneers. In bonding procedures, a dentist applies tooth-colored resin to both teeth, filling in the gap. It can cost anywhere from $300 to $800 per tooth and usually requires a minimum of two teeth.
Dental veneers, meanwhile, are porcelain or ceramic shells which fit over existing teeth but may require scraping off some tooth enamel. Ultra-thin versions don't require scraping but cost more. Standard veneers run between $500 and $1,000 per tooth, while the thin versions are $800 to $1,400. You should know that both of these cosmetic procedures fall outside of most health insurance coverage.
Partial braces and retainers may also be used to correct gaps in teeth. These treatments may be covered under insurance for children but often aren't covered for adults. Expect braces for up to six teeth to cost $2,000 to $3,000, and a retainer may run $500 to $2,500. If you have an enlarged labial frenum, an oral surgeon may be able to correct it with a procedure known as a "frenectomy," which trims off excess tissue. This is usually performed in conjunction with another treatment, such as braces, and costs between $300 and $1,200. Gum disease, meanwhile, needs to be treated with improved dental hygiene, medications and regular teeth cleaning before any other corrective action can be taken.
Mind the gap
While childhood issues resulting in a gap in your teeth can be corrected on a (mostly) permanent basis, it's possible that repairs for gum disease issues may not work as well, especially if your tooth health degrades again. Also bear in mind that resin or veneer fixes, while strong, aren't invincible. If you eat substantial amount of hard food, or sustain an injury to your mouth, the veneer or resin may chip.
Correcting gaps is most effective with an experienced dentist, one who can adapt methods to your mouth's particular needs and can recommend a long-term treatment plan. Expect costs to vary depending on the number of practicing dentists in your area, the size of your tooth gaps and how much followup work will be required to maintain the fix.
Before you undergo a dental procedure, check the price in your area with Healthcare Blue Book, a free online guide that lists fair prices for healthcare services. The fair price is what a health service provider typically allows from insurance companies as full payment, which is substantially less than the billed amount.