Dr. Vaibhavi S. Patel
David Letterman. Samuel L. Jackson. Madonna. Lauren Hutton. Michael Strahan. These celebrities have noticeable gaps in their teeth and are fine with the imperfection in their smiles.
They generally are also the exception—many people with gaps are uncomfortable with their teeth and may even resist smiling so others don’t see what’s missing. This self-consciousness is understandable, but some won’t take steps to fix what they perceive as a shortcoming because of the first solution that comes to mind: braces.
Orthodontia is a logical step to fix a gap in teeth, but it’s also expensive, inconvenient, and even a bit painful. Moreover, for adults, braces can feel just as embarrassing as a smile with a gap in it.
However, braces (and other orthodontic solutions such as Invisalign) aren’t the only option for people wanting to close a gap in their teeth. Many alternatives are less expensive and less time-consuming, and can be handled by your dentist instead of an orthodontist. Here are some options for fixing your smile without braces:
Cosmetic bonding might be one of the most efficient ways to fix minor gaps in your smile. The procedure is simple: The dentist applies a composite bonding material to the exterior of a tooth to rebuild its shape and potentially make it wider, thus closing any gaps. The color filling is matched to other teeth so your smile looks uniform. The procedure only requires one office visit, is painless—no numbing or laughing gas required—and is relatively inexpensive. Bonding doesn’t last as long as some other solutions but will give you up to 10 years of a gap-free smile.
Crowns (also known as caps) are prosthetic devices, usually made of porcelain or a porcelain-metal combination, that fully cover damaged teeth. Because each crown is custom-designed for a patient’s individual tooth, they can be constructed to also fill small gaps on the side of that tooth. Crowns don’t require any extraordinary upkeep beyond regular brushing and flossing, and they’re durable, easily lasting a decade or more. Cost varies, but usually you’ll pay about $1,000-$1,200 per crown.
Veneers are similar to crowns but they are a more cosmetic solution, with the device covering only the front of the tooth. If you don’t have any other problems with the teeth they’re applied to, veneers can close a gap in your smile with minimal fuss. Porcelain veneers are custom-made to fit over teeth and can be designed a little wider in order to close gaps. The procedure requires multiple office visits but does not involve any sort of advanced anesthesia (just possibly a numbing agent during the actual application). Veneers can last 15 years or more, and like other solutions, their color is matched to the rest of your smile. Perhaps the only drawback is that veneers are more expensive than bonding or crowns (though not as much as implants), but for people worried about smile gaps, the cost is usually worthwhile.
If gaps are wider—perhaps a whole tooth or multiple teeth are missing—bonding, crowns, or veneers simply won’t fix the problem. Bridges are a logical solution to fill a gap of more than one tooth. Crowns are placed on surrounding teeth to anchor the bridge in place. The replacement teeth are composed of porcelain and indistinguishable from real teeth. The bridge is custom-made to completely fill the gap and restore your smile.
To replace a single missing tooth that is causing an unseemly gap, a dental implant is your best bet. This procedure begins with a titanium rod inserted into your jawbone or just above it to replace a missing root. The bone and jaw tissue grow around the rod. The replacement tooth, custom-made from porcelain, can then be attached and functions just like a normal tooth would. Although expensive and a bit invasive (plus the entire process takes three to four months), dental implants are perhaps the best way to fill wide gaps without braces.
Your dentist can determine which of these options might work best for you and lay out the pros and cons of each depending on the state of your teeth. Your perfect smile awaits!