Straight teeth are important to orthodontic health, by themselves, they don’t always produce a Hollywood smile. Some patients develop “black triangles” – small voids between teeth at the gum line. (Orthodontists call these spaces “open gingival embrasures”) While open embrasures aren’t harmful, some patients think the spaces diminish their appearance. Several different conditions can cause this visual.
What causes black triangles?
Orthodontic treatment. Patients with crowded teeth can sometimes develop a receded gum line at the point of crowding. The crowded teeth prevent the gum tissue from forming normally between the teeth. When treatment relieves the crowding, the gum recession becomes obvious, in the form of a black triangle.
Natural tooth shape. Every person’s teeth develop differently. Sometimes, incisors and other “front” teeth are wider at the biting surface than at the gum. This triangular tooth shape creates a gap at the gum line that gum tissue cannot naturally fill.
Bone support. If the tooth is not well supported by the jaw bone, an open gingival embrasure can form between teeth at the gum line.
How do orthodontists treat black triangles?
The good news is that orthodontists can treat open gingival embrasures with a technique called interproximal reduction (IPR). IPR doesn’t hurt and doesn’t take long to produce an aesthetically pleasing result.
For some patients, the IPR procedure involves polishing between the affected teeth to open a small gap. Once a space between the teeth is open, the gum can expand to fill it. This natural “fill-in” can occur within a matter of days.
When the tooth’s natural shape causes the embrasure, this simple strategy won’t work. Instead, reshaping the tooth is the best option available. Reshaping involves removing some of the enamel from the side of each tooth that creates the embrasure. Reshaping allows the orthodontist to create a larger contact surface between the affected teeth. Once the orthodontist has reshaped the teeth, the work of closing the embrasure can begin.
Polishing the enamel does not harm it, and the polished enamel is not less stable or prone to decay. Further, IPR promotes healthier gums and eliminates a space that can trap plaque, tartar and bacteria. The procedure also improves the orthodontic stability of the patient’s teeth by reducing relapse tendency caused by crowding. Increasing the contact between adjacent teeth reduces the possibility of shifting, since the reshaped teeth can better resist moving. If you’d like more information about correcting open gingival embrasures, please contact us at (503) 252-5567.