A gummy smile. It’s safe to say that we can recognize one when we see it — it’s when a narrow band of the upper gums is visible when a person smiles. For some, this proportion of teeth to gums isn’t an issue. For others, a gummy smile isn’t appealing, and can even make you feel self-conscious. If you think you have too much of your gums showing and want to know how to fix a gummy smile, a consultation with Dr. Anand Patel at The Brace Place is a great place to start.
But what is a gummy smile exactly and what causes it? And how do you fix a gummy smile? Here, we’ll cover all you need to know about gummy smiles.
What is a Gummy Smile?
Dr. Patel has seen a fair number of gummy smiles in his two decades as an orthodontist. Also called “excessive gingival display,” experts calculate that about 14% of women and 7% of men have gummy smiles, although this is based on treated cases. The actual number of people with gummy smiles is likely higher.
So what is considered a gummy smile? First, let’s clarify that aesthetically, a gummy smile is a matter of perception and personal taste. Some people find it perfectly normal to have gums show in a smile, while others feel their gummy smile needs improvement.
But technically speaking, a smile that shows four millimeters or more of gums above the upper teeth is considered a gummy smile. In a study that included dentists, plastic surgeons, dermatologists, and the general public, consensus was that two millimeters was a normal smile. Participants started noticing the gums at three millimeters, and by four millimeters, they felt too much gum was showing.
What Causes a Gummy Smile?
There are several causes for a gummy smile. And even though it’s called a “gummy smile,” it’s not just about the gums. In fact, a gummy smile is a result of how the gums, teeth, lips and jaw are working together.
Think of a gummy smile as a combination of some or all the following:
- The size and shape of your teeth
- Excessive gum tissue
- Excessive wear on your teeth
- The length and shape of your upper lip
- How the upper lip moves when you smile
- The vertical position of your upper jaw and teeth relative to your upper face
Teeth and Gums
The size and shape of your teeth – Genetics dictates how your adult teeth will erupt and how they’ll look. Ideally, crown length — the visible part of the tooth — is about 10 millimeters, and the width of teeth about 75-85% of their crown length. However, sometimes you inherit smaller-than-normal teeth, which causes more exposed gums when smiling.
Excessive gum tissue – Sometimes excess gum tissue covers the tops of your teeth, leading to a high gums-to-teeth ratio and a gummy smile.
Excessive wear on your teeth – A lifetime of chewing can cause your teeth to wear down, which is normal. But excessive wear can make them incrementally shorter. This triggers teeth to erupt very slowly towards the opposing teeth and is your body’s way of trying to maintain a functional bite with shorter teeth. As worn teeth move, so do the gums they’re attached to, elongating your gums and making them more visible when you smile.
The length and shape of your upper lip and how the upper lip moves – If you have a thin upper lip, more of your upper gums might show when you smile. Or you might experience exposed gums when smiling if you have a hypermobile lip — one that moves up more than 6-8 millimeters when you smile.
The vertical position of your upper jaw and teeth – Are your teeth, lips, and gums all proportionate but you still have a gummy smile? If so, your gummy smile might be because of a longer upper jaw.
Called “maxillary excess”, this is an overgrowth of the upper jaw which makes the gums bulge out or sit lower from the upper face. As a result, it’s difficult for the upper lip to stretch in a smile without lifting up and showing your gums.
How to Fix a Gummy Smile
Now that we know what causes a gummy smile, we can talk about how to correct it! Once an orthodontist like Dr. Patel has examined your teeth, gums, and lips, your facial structure and jaw, they can suggest treatments for how to fix a gummy smile that will work best for you.
Gummy smile surgery
Gummy smile surgery ranges from correcting upper lip movement on the minor end, to jaw surgery for more complicated cases. If your gummy smile is due to lip shape or movement, a doctor might suggest severing the muscles that elevate the upper lip when you smile. Then your upper lip won’t rise up as high and expose your gums.
If your gummy smile is due to maxillary excess, jaw surgery might be an option. This type of gummy smile surgery involves repositioning the upper jaw upward and securing it in its new spot with plates and screws. Orthognathic surgery, as it’s called, is typically a lengthy process that can take up to two years and includes surgery as well as orthodontic treatment like braces or Invisalign®.
Gummy smile BOTOX®
You might be surprised to know that a gummy smile can be treated with BOTOX. Treating a gummy smile with BOTOX means paralyzing the muscles of your upper lip that activate a smile with BOTOX injections. Then your upper lip doesn’t contract and move up as much when you smile. Gummy smile BOTOX treatment typically lasts 3-4 months but lasts a bit longer with every treatment.
Reshaping your gums with laser treatment
When a gummy smile is due to small, short teeth or excessive gums, Dr. Patel might suggest laser treatment. Excess gum tissue is removed with a laser, showing more of your teeth and reducing the gums.
Crowns and veneers
Another solution for a gummy smile is veneers or crowns that change your teeth’s visible appearance. Veneers and crowns placed over your teeth make them look longer and improve your tooth-to-gum ratio.
Fix A Gummy Smile with The Brace Place
Now that you know all about gummy smiles, let the experienced team at The Brace Place help you take first steps towards a smile you’ll love.