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Teeth Shifting: Signs, Causes, Prevention and Treatment

February 18, 2021
Teeth Shifting: Signs, Causes, Prevention and Treatment

Teeth shifting isn’t usually something you notice overnight – it can take months or years to recognise a change in your smile. But should you be concerned about shifting teeth, and is it something you can prevent? Read on to discover more about the signs, causes and treatment of teeth shifting.

Not only is it possible for your teeth to shift over time – it’s actually normal. Your teeth will continue to move ever so slightly over the course of your life toward the front and centre of your mouth – a process known as mesial drift. But this shift is incremental, so you won’t be able to see it happening day-by-day. However, several factors – including periodontal (gum) conditions and other health issues – may exacerbate the degree of movement your teeth undergo. This can lead to complications including crooked teeth and a misaligned jaw. If you’re concerned about your teeth shifting and want to minimise their movement, it’s best to see an orthodontist for a professional assessment.

We often see patients who have seen changes in the position of their upper and particularly their lower front teeth as late teens or as young adults. Some of these patients had very well aligned teeth before. It is easy to blame the wisdom teeth for these changes, as this is the time that they tend to erupt, but there are actually many other possible factors which can affect teeth positions.

Your teeth are housed in living and changing bone, rather than set in “concrete”. Therefore, teeth positions can be affected by any or a combination of the following factors.

  • Late lower jaw growth which can lead to inward tipping of the lower front teeth
  • Changes in the elasticity of the cheeks and lips and/or pressure from the tongue
  • Loss of gum tissue or bony support for the teeth through gum disease

The assumption is that the wisdom teeth “push” and place pressure on the other teeth, which eventually causes the front teeth to become more crowded as we age. Many studies have assessed this theory and have found that wisdom teeth are not the primary cause of dental crowding.

In fact, up to 25% of people are missing their wisdom teeth from birth and these patients still develop the same crowding later in life! This means that removing wisdom teeth will not guarantee that the front teeth will stay straight! It seems that wisdom teeth have been unfairly blamed for dental crowding and are considered to be “guilty” merely by time association! 

Yes – without the correct use of your retainer. Braces exert a subtle yet steady pressure on your teeth, slowly shifting them into alignment. Once your braces are removed, your teeth will always have some potential to move out of position, however, the amount is unpredictable and can differ greatly between individuals. This is where your retainer comes in. A retainer is an orthodontic device designed to hold your beautifully aligned teeth in position. It’s incredibly important that you wear your retainer exactly as your orthodontist prescribes – which is generally every night for the long-term.

If you’re athletic, we also recommend that you wear a sporting mouthguard to safeguard your newly straightened teeth during contact sports.

Signs of teeth shifting include:

  • Mid-line shift of teeth. With correct tooth alignment, your two upper and lower front teeth should fall in the center of your nose and eyebrows. An increase in asymmetry in one or both dental arches – known as midline drift – is a common sign of shifting teeth.
  • Gum bleeding. May be a sign of periodontal (gum) problems, which may increase the likelihood of teeth shifting.
  • Gaps in your teeth. This is a common and easy-to-spot sign that your teeth are shifting. Gaps may also be a sign of developing periodontal (gum) problems.
  • Tooth pain or sensitivity. If your teeth are more tender or more sensitive than usual, this could indicate shifting teeth.
  • An uncomfortable or ill-fitting retainer. Your orthodontist will custom-make your retainer to fit your well-aligned teeth perfectly. So if your retainer no longer fits, this is a sure sign your teeth have shifted. Unfortunately, this is usually due to incorrect wear of your retainer.

Teeth shifting is an incremental and gradual process, so it generally does not cause pain overnight. However, some causes of shifting teeth may be due to other issues such as developing periodontal (gum) problems. Over-the-counter pain relief should help in the short term, but you’ll need to book an appointment with your orthodontist to assess the severity and underlying cause.

  • Regular dental check-ups. Your general dentist will assess the health of your teeth and gums to help prevent teeth shifting before it even occurs.
  • Correct use of your retainer. As we’ve outlined above, it’s imperative you wear your retainer as often as your orthodontist prescribes.
  • Good dental hygiene. Brushing and flossing regularly will prevent food and bacteria from building up, preventing issues such as gum disease that can cause teeth shifting.
  • Don’t grind your teeth. If this is a problem for you, book an appointment with your general dentist for further assessment.

Naturally, the body inevitably changes as we age. Tooth movement, like wrinkles, occurs with time as a part of the normal aging process. Thankfully we can hold off unwanted teeth changes, through maintaining good oral health and the simple wearing of retainers. Retainers are sometimes referred to as the “Botox” for teeth! There is certainly great value in wearing your retainers!

Concerned about your teeth shifting? Click here to search for an orthodontist near you.

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