Baby teeth often cause parents considerable anxiety; they come through the gums at funny angles before straightening out and they often leave gaps between one tooth and the next. Don't envision a childhood full of dental work when you see gaps between baby teeth. They're normal and leave room for the larger permanent teeth. Gaps between permanent teeth, medically termed a diastema, can be more troubling. Talk to your child's dentist if you notice spaces developing between permanent teeth.
Many factors can cause tooth gaps, some within your child's control, some not. Certain habits, such as thumb-sucking, can cause spaces between the teeth because this habit forces the front teeth forward, leaving gaps, according to Colgate.com. Tongue thrusting, or placing the tongue against the teeth rather than against the roof of the mouth can also cause the front teeth movement. A piece of tissue called the labial frenum can grow down between the upper front teeth, creating a gap. Teeth that are too small for a child's mouth or a jaw that's too large can also cause a mismatch and gaps. Some children are missing one or several teeth, most often the upper lateral incisors next to the front teeth, which also leaves gaps.
The treatment of a diastema depends on the cause. Removing a large frenulum surgically will cause the gap to close by itself in a young child. In an older child, braces might be needed to pull the teeth closer to fill the gap. For missing teeth, tooth implants or partial dentures can fill larger gaps. If your child needs braces to move teeth, he'll need a full set -- top and bottom -- even if he only has gaps on one or the other. This is necessary because moving teeth affects all the other teeth in the mouth. In some cases, veneers or dental bonding can cover the space.
Healthy baby teeth act as placeholders for permanent teeth. Severe dental problems in the baby teeth can increase the risk of developing gaps in permanent teeth. Working on reducing thumb-sucking and other habits that shift your child's teeth can help ward off orthodontia work due to gaps down the road. The American Association of Orthodontists recommends seeing an orthodontist by age 7 to catch potential problems quickly and possibly reduce the amount of treatment needed.
In most cases, gaps between teeth aren't harmful and don't interfere with chewing or eating. However, some diastemas can interfere with speech, making it hard to pronounce S sounds. Gaps caused by habits such as tongue thrusting or thumb-sucking can worsen over time. If the gaps bother you or your child, having work done is a good option once your child stops whatever habit is causing the gaps.