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Teeth Shifting: Signs, Causes, Prevention and Treatment

December 16, 2023
Teeth Shifting: Signs, Causes, Prevention and Treatment

Teeth shifting – it’s something we don’t often think about as an orthodontic problem. And while it can take time to notice the difference (think a few months or even years), seeing your teeth misaligned, especially after having orthodontic treatment, can be disheartening.

But how can you tell that your teeth have shifted? And is there anything you can do to prevent them from moving? Read on to discover the answer to these questions and more, so you can maintain your perfectly straight teeth for years to come.

Is it possible for your teeth to shift?

It’s quite normal for your teeth to shift over time – they will move slightly over the course of your life toward the front and centre of your mouth. You won’t, however, notice the effects of this shift as it’s incremental.

But there are some factors that might affect the degree of movement your teeth undergo, such as gum conditions and other health issues. These factors can then lead to further 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.

What causes teeth to shift in adults?

Most patients experience teeth shifting in their upper and lower front teeth during their late teens or as young adults. Some of these patients had very well aligned teeth before, and it’s easy to blame the wisdom teeth for these changes, as this is the time that they tend to erupt. But there are plenty of other factors that can affect the position of teeth.

Your teeth are housed in living and changing bone, rather than set in concrete, so to speak. This means that teeth positions can be affected by any or a combination of:

  • 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 common 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. 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. Removing wisdom teeth doesn’t guarantee that the front teeth will stay straight. Due to the common misconceptions around wisdom teeth, these molars are often blamed (unfairly) for dental crowding, even when research states otherwise.

Do teeth shift back after braces?

Without correctly using your retainer after your braces treatment, your teeth have a stronger chance of shifting and undoing the work of your orthodontic treatment. Your braces work by apply subtle pressure on your teeth that slowly shifts them into proper alignment, so when your braces are removed there’s always the chance that your teeth will move out of position. However, the amount of movement is unpredictable and can differ from person to person.

This is why wearing your retainer per your orthodontist’s instructions is important. Regularly wearing your retainer can help keep your perfectly aligned teeth in place post-treatment. And if you play any form of contact sport, then we recommend that you wear a mouthguard to protect your straightened teeth.

What if your teeth are straight but your jaw has become misaligned?

No matter how straight your teeth are, if you’re experiencing pain or discomfort in your jaw then chances are that it may be misaligned. A sudden misalignment of your jaw can affect your daily life, such as how you eat, talk and even sleep.

While some jaw pain can be attributed to stress or injury, it can also be caused by dental misalignment. Some of the signs of a misaligned jaw you should keep an eye on include:

  • clicking jaw
  • tightness of the jaw
  • pain in your jaw, temple, back or shoulder
  • popping in your ear or tinnitus
  • difficulty speaking or chewing food
  • drooling.

If you experience any of these symptoms, then consult your orthodontist for their advice about possible solutions.

If you’re worried about your teeth shifting, then there are different signs that you can keep an eye on, which include:

  • A midline shift is when the line between your two front and lower don’t line up properly and aren’t aligned with the centre of your nose and eyebrows.
  • Gum bleeding may be a sign of periodontal problems, which may increase the likelihood of teeth shifting.
  • Gaps in your teeth is a common and easy-to-spot sign that your teeth are shifting. Gaps may also be a sign of developing periodontal problems.
  • If you experience more tooth pain or sensitivity than usual, this could indicate shifting teeth.
  • If your retainer is uncomfortable or ill-fitting, then that’s a sign that your teeth have shifted, as your orthodontist will custom-make your retainer to fit your well-aligned teeth perfectly.

Does teeth shifting hurt?

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 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.

How to prevent your teeth from shifting

There are many ways that you can prevent your teeth from shifting after your orthodontic treatment, which include:

  • Regular dental check-ups, as your general dentist will assess the health of your teeth and gums to help prevent teeth shifting before it even occurs.
  • Wearing your retainer correctly is of the utmost importance as it will help keep your perfectly straightened teeth in place.
  • Good dental hygiene, such as regular brushing and flossing, will prevent food and bacteria from building up, preventing issues such as gum disease that can cause teeth shifting.
  • Don’t grind your teeth, but if this is a problem for you, book an appointment with your general dentist for further assessment.

Tooth movement, like wrinkles or other body changes, occurs with time as a part of the normal aging process. But we can hold off unwanted teeth changes by maintaining good oral health and simply wearing your retainer.

If you’re concerned about your teeth shifting, or other oral health issues, then you can use our Finder Tool to find your local orthodontist and request a consultation.

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