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Teeth Shifting: Why teeth shift and how to stop it

Jul 17, 2023Oral health, Orthodontics

Teeth Shifting

The human body is constantly undergoing change, and this includes the teeth. Contrary to popular belief, teeth do not remain static after receiving braces as a child; rather, they will continue to shift and move even as one grows older. Teeth shifting can occur due to a variety of causes, including accidental, intentional, and unavoidable circumstances. Such causes may include illness, injury, age, and orthodontic procedures.

It is essential to comprehend the causes and effects of teeth shifting in order to take preventive action. Below are eight potential reasons for teeth shifting and strategies that may be employed to counter them.


Natural Changes to the Jaw

As we age, it is normal for our facial structures, including our jaw, to experience gradual changes. These can cause our teeth to shift in small increments, sometimes resulting in overcrowding or gaps forming between teeth that may be difficult to detect.

As we age, our jaw muscles and ligaments can weaken due to decreased strength in tissues and fibers. This can cause teeth to become loose and create misalignments in our bite. In addition, the jawbones may naturally shift forward throughout our lifetime. The pressure exerted by the lower teeth can cause the upper teeth to move out of alignment. This misalignment can affect the bite and cause further shifting of the teeth.

As we age, there is a decrease in the mineral content of our bones which leads to a decrease in their density. This can affect the connection between our teeth and jaw, causing the teeth to shift.

Other facial features may impact the structure of our teeth. For example, our lips can contract, causing pressure on the outside of the bite and potentially pushing the teeth inward.


Bruxism, or teeth grinding, is more common than often thought. Estimates suggest that about 15-40% of children grind their teeth while asleep, and this percentage decreases to 8.6% in adulthood. Some individuals may consciously grind their teeth as a response to stress while awake. However, the majority of people who suffer from bruxism experience unconscious grinding of the teeth, especially during sleep.

Teeth grinding (bruxism) can lead to significant erosion of dental enamel, resulting in changes to the shape and alignment of the affected teeth. Over time, this can cause misalignment of the bite and displacement of teeth. In addition, clenching and grinding of the jaw can lead to increased pressure on the teeth, which can also contribute to their movement.

Missing Teeth

Edentulism, or the absence of teeth, is often a result of injury, illness, or the removal of damaged teeth. When a tooth is missing, it can cause adjacent and opposing teeth to shift in order to compensate for the lost space. Teeth may naturally shift to accommodate the space created by a missing tooth through either lateral or vertical movement. The bite alignment can be compromised due to the presence of damaged teeth and lead to further shifting of the other teeth.

Gum Disease

Periodontal diseases, such as gingivitis and gum disease, can cause severe damage to both the gum tissue and jaw bone if left untreated, causing teeth to shift. Furthermore, periodontitis may spread to other surrounding tissues without proper treatment.

Tongue Thrust

The position of the tongue can exert significant pressure on the teeth, potentially affecting their alignment. Individuals of all ages who exhibit tongue thrust, also known as tongue swallow, frequently involuntarily press their tongue against their teeth when speaking, swallowing, and at rest. This condition is more frequent among children, but can be managed with treatment.

Unusual tongue positioning and increased pressure applied to the teeth can lead to a displacement of them. Over time, this force creates an “open bite” between the front upper and lower teeth.

CPAP Therapy

People with sleep apnea rely on Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy to regulate their breathing while asleep. CPAP machines use air pressure to maintain an open airway, and typically involve wearing a mask that covers the nose and mouth. This ensures a steady flow of air into the lungs for optimal respiration.

A 2018 study revealed that CPAP therapy can lead to a gradual shifting of teeth. This is caused by the pressure used to keep airways open, which places pressure on the tongue and subsequently the teeth. The sustained pressure results in a misalignment of the bite.

Dental Procedures

Standard dental procedures can lead to minor topographical changes in the teeth, causing shifts in bite alignment. Over time, such subtle misalignments can cause tooth shifting. Additionally, installation of implants or bridges, removal of teeth, and uneven fillings may further contribute to tooth movement.

Orthodontic Procedures

Orthodontic procedures are used to reposition teeth into the desired, correct alignment. Unfortunately, due to their “memory,” teeth may have a tendency to return to their original location. During orthodontic treatment with braces or Invisalign, it is common for the gums and muscles around the jaw to experience some mild weakening. When the devices are removed, there may not be sufficient strength in the gums and jaw to maintain the teeth in their original position.


How to Stop Your Teeth From Shifting

It is common for orthodontic procedures to involve strategically shifting the alignment of teeth. However, as we age, moving teeth may be inevitable. To help prevent shifts from occurring, here are five tips:

Prioritize oral health: Orthodontists and dentists are trained to detect changes occurring in patients’ teeth. Routine check-ups can help spot any shift in the alignment of teeth and determine its cause, allowing for timely treatment before the issue worsens.

Practice good oral hygiene: Maintaining good oral hygiene is essential for preserving your teeth and avoiding illnesses that may lead to shifting or tooth loss.

Wear a retainer if recommended: It is essential to wear a retainer following any orthodontic procedure as instructed by your orthodontist, in order to avoid teeth shifting back to their original position. For continued maintenance of alignment, a permanent retainer may be required.

Address grinding: It is recommended that one wear a mouthguard at night in order to prevent potential damage caused by teeth grinding. Additionally, it is important to identify and reduce sources of stress that may contribute to nighttime teeth grinding.

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