What Is a Gummy Smile?
The beauty of your smile has a lot to do with the proportions between the size of your teeth and the amount of gum that covers them. Your smile line, or the teeth that show when you smile, is determined by several factors, including:
- The size and shape of your teeth
- Your facial muscles
- The size and shape of your lips
- Your gum tissue
In general, the most aesthetic smile line reveals the least amount of gum tissue possible, for a balanced appearance. Typically, if any more than three millimeters of gum tissue shows during a smile, this is enough to draw attention.
Causes of a Gummy Smile
There are several aspects of your smile which can contribute to the appearance of excess gum tissue. One of the most common causes of a gummy smile is a high lip line. Some individuals naturally have a short upper lip which pulls tight when smiling to reveal more of their teeth and gums. In other cases, the upper lip is normal in length but the muscles which control the lip are hyperactive, causing the upper lip to lift too high when smiling.
In the majority of cases, a gummy smile is a purely aesthetic concern.
Another common issue is gingival hypertrophy. For patients with this condition, they naturally have more gum tissue development.
How your teeth erupted during childhood can also cause a gummy smile. Abnormal eruption can refer to a few situations, such as:
- Overeruption leading to excess overbite
- Altered active eruption, meaning the teeth do not erupt fully from the bone
- Altered passive eruption when the gums do not recede as you mature
These situations can result in excessive gum tissue covering your teeth, making them appear short regardless of their natural size.
Compensatory eruption is another condition which can result in a gummy smile. For some individuals, excessive tooth wear affects the size of their teeth which can cause teeth to erupt very slowly to compensate for the loss of tissue. During this process, the gums erupt along with the teeth affecting the proportions of your smile. In addition, the development of your upper jaw bone can also cause the appearance of excessive gum tissue. In some individuals, a bulge in the upper jaw can push the gum tissue downward over the teeth.
Is a Gummy Smile Unhealthy?
In the majority of cases, a gummy smile is a purely aesthetic concern. Excessive gum tissue can make your smile look unbalanced and cause you to feel self-conscious about smiling. However, if your smile is caused by abnormal eruption or jaw development, you may have an improper bite which can affect your long-term oral health. You can discuss your concerns with your dentist who can take x-rays and determine if your gummy smile indicates a deeper issue.
Treatments for a Gummy Smile
The proper treatment for your smile will depends on the cause of your gummy smile. Your dentist can perform a comprehensive oral health evaluation to identify the underlying cause of your concerns. Using this information, they can recommend the optimal method for enhancing your smile.
If the issue is simply excessive gum tissue, your dentist can perform a gum contouring procedure, also known as crown lengthening, to remove the extra tissue and reshape the gums for a more aesthetic and balanced result. Many dentist can perform gum contouring with a laser for faster and safer treatment. In some cases, crown lengthening can help with patients whose teeth are not fully erupted and can involve the removal of bone tissue as well.
For mild concerns of the jaws or teeth, orthodontic treatment can often correct the bite and make the gums appear less prominent. Braces, Invisalign®, or another type of orthodontics can realign your teeth for a healthier, more comfortable, and less gummy smile.
If moderate to severe jaw protrusion is at the root of your gummy smile, your dentist may recommend jaw surgery combined with orthodontic treatment. During orthognathic surgery, an oral surgeon recontours the upper jaw and moves it into the ideal position. Generally, this surgical procedure is combined with braces to ensure proper bite alignment.
Lip Repositioning Surgery
As an alternative to jaw surgery, some dentist recommend a lip repositioning procedure combined with orthodontics. This treatment can address a short or hyperactive upper lip.
Porcelain Veneers or Crowns
If your main issue is an imbalanced smile, a set of porcelain veneers or a dental crown can make teeth appear longer. This treatment option can improve the tooth-to-gum ratio of smiles affected by wear or excessive gum tissue.
Some patients are taking advantage of BOTOX as a cheaper, less invasive alternative to lip repositioning surgery. A BOTOX injection can limit the movement of a hyperactive upper lip and prevent it from lifting too high when you smile. However, the effects of BOTOX are temporary and typically only last three to four months.
The Importance of Proper Diagnosis
The key to successful treatment of your gummy smile is an accurate diagnosis. For example, if the issue with your smile is a hyperactive gum line, removing gingival tissue may not provide you with the results you desire. Be sure to discuss your options fully with your dentist before beginning treatment.