Though you can’t see it happening, your teeth are always on the move. Even after you’ve had braces or other dental work, your teeth will continue to shift ever so slightly throughout your life.
This movement is due to several factors, including:
- the changing shape of your jaw as you get older
- pressures from eating and talking
- your teeth moving back to their natural positions after orthodontic work
- other possible health issues, such as gum disease or teeth grinding
There are some steps you can take to help keep your teeth in a healthy alignment. Read on to learn why teeth shift and what you can do to minimize their movement.
Why teeth shift after orthodontic procedures
If you’ve had braces or other orthodontic procedures to correct tooth alignment, your teeth have been moved from their natural positions.
Once your braces are removed or you stop wearing alignment trays such as Invisalign, your teeth may start to shift back to their old positions. This is natural. The movement may be more pronounced in some people, while others may experience very little movement.
People who have a fixed or lingual retainer, which is a retainer permanently bonded to your teeth after orthodontic treatment, are also at risk of some tooth movement.
However, research published in the American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics suggests that most of the time, tooth shifting happens if one of the retainer’s bonds breaks or if the retainer wasn’t bonded properly.
Another reason teeth might move after braces is related to the health of your gums and jawbone. If bone loss has occurred as a result of gum disease or another health problem, it’s harder for your teeth to stay anchored in place once your braces come off.
Why teeth shift after tooth removal
If you’ve had a tooth extracted, the surrounding teeth may start to shift to try to fill the space.
Wisdom tooth removal may not cause any major problems. Many people get along fine for the rest of their lives after having their wisdom teeth or other rear molars pulled.
The greater risk is in losing a canine tooth or incisor. The teeth on either side may shift toward each other in the new space left by the extraction.
Other reasons teeth shift over time
Your teeth are under a variety of stresses 24 hours a day. Simply talking and pushing your tongue against your teeth to make certain sounds can put pressure on your teeth.
Smiling, sneezing, and coughing cause the muscles of your face and mouth to move, adding more pressure to your teeth.
Those minor stressors may cause very minor changes to tooth alignment, but those changes may be enough to consider braces in adulthood.
Other, more substantial, factors may cause tooth movement over time. These include:
As you get older, your jawbone grows forward and becomes narrower. At first this can cause your lower teeth to become more crowded. Over time, the change in your bottom teeth can affect your bite, causing a shift in your upper teeth.
The changes may be so slight that nothing needs to be done. But some people may need tooth extraction and bridgework or implants to correct their bite.
Gum disease, or periodontitis, weakens the gums that help keep teeth in place. Loose or shifting teeth are one of many serious complications of gum disease, according to the American Dental Association.
Grinding your teeth may not only wear down your teeth but also cause them to shift over time. This condition, called bruxism, is very common.
In a 2016 surveyTrusted Source of more than 6,000 people, 8.6 percent reported grinding their teeth during sleep. And a 2013 review published in the Journal of Oral and Facial Pain and Headache reported that 22 to 31 percent of adults experience bruxism while awake.
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy involves wearing a mask over your nose (though some CPAP masks cover the mouth too) in order to receive a steady flow of air into your lungs.
CPAP was designed for people who have obstructive sleep apnea. This condition causes the tissue in the back of your throat to relax during sleep, restricting the flow of oxygen into your airways.
A 2018 studyTrusted Source published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine acknowledged that CPAP therapy can cause some tooth movement. The researchers suggest that people using CPAP pay attention to any changes in their bite and work with an orthodontist to prevent or correct any major shifting.
Is there anything you can do to stop or minimize the shifting?
Whether or not you’ve had orthodontic work or a tooth extraction, you can take concrete steps starting today to at least reduce the amount of tooth shifting that goes on in the years ahead.
Chances are, once you’ve had your braces removed, your orthodontist will fit you for a retainer. You may be advised to wear it at night only or for as many hours a day and night as you can.
One of the most important steps you can take to keep your recently straightened teeth in alignment is to follow your orthodontist’s recommendations.
Fixed, or lingual, retainers are generally quite effective in maintaining tooth alignment and should be considered as a treatment once your braces come off.
If you get a fixed retainer, be sure to have it checked regularly by your orthodontist. A problem with a bond to just one tooth could lead to larger problems requiring more orthodontic treatment.
Address teeth grinding
You may not be aware that you grind your teeth, but a good dentist can probably spot the signs by noting the wear patterns on certain teeth.
If you grind your teeth, talk with your dentist about treatment options. Mouth guards worn at night are effective.
Good dental hygiene
As with anything related to dental health, the simplest but most important strategy is to maintain good dental hygiene throughout the year. That means:
- brushing at least twice a day
- flossing every day
- getting regular dental checkups
- avoiding behaviors that can harm your dental health, such as smoking
Teeth shift after dental procedures and throughout your life, leading to imperceptible changes or significant movement that may require the attention of a dentist or orthodontist.
Wearing a retainer consistently after having your braces removed is often one way to minimize shifting. The other important step is to maintain good dental hygiene.
If possible, try to visit a dentist regularly so any changes in your bite or smile can be addressed earlier rather than later.