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Teeth Shifting: What You Can Do

Haleigh Pouliot Dr. Musikant

Written by Haleigh Pouliot

Medically reviewed by Dr. Musikant

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Your teeth are on the move!

When you first notice that your teeth have started to shift, you might feel a sense of panic start to set in as your mind starts racing: what’s going on? What should you do? How can you stop your teeth from moving? Given all the negative effects of crooked teeth, you don’t have any time to waste.

The first step is determining why your teeth are moving.

Teeth Shifting: Why Does it Happen?

From the outside, it may look like your teeth are just pieces of bone stuck inside the larger bone of your jaw. But that idea couldn’t be further from the truth.

Your teeth aren’t bones; they’re made up of a complex matrix of inorganic minerals and living cells. And notably, teeth aren’t directly anchored to the bone in your mouth. They’re actually separated by a ligament that cushions, supports, and nourishes your teeth. This ligament, in turn, attaches to the bone of your mouth.

Your teeth are constantly communicating messages to this ligament and it responds accordingly by triggering either the breakdown or deposition of bone tissue.

When your teeth are under pressure, they push on that ligament which stimulates it to press on the neighboring bone (that’s why you experience teeth shifting pain). Your bone tissue responds by dissolving and making way for the tooth to move through. Braces take advantage of this natural process by slowly applying tension on teeth to help them move through the mouth. After a tooth shifts, its supporting ligament helps the bone tissue to fill in the empty space left behind.

Braces aren’t the only reason teeth shift, however. Then, why do teeth shift?

There’s a whole range of factors that can put varying kinds of pressure on your teeth and cause them to shift.

Teeth Shifting After Braces

Just as braces can make your teeth shift to new positions, removing braces can allow them to shift back. It takes time for the bone around your teeth to firm up around them after they move. This is why you need to wear a retainer after getting braces. If you don’t wear your retainer, then there’s a high risk your teeth will shift back to the way they were before.

Your teeth likely came in crooked because there was some factor (like jaw or tooth size or an oral habit such as thumb sucking) that pushed them into poor alignment. That factor might still be there after you straighten your teeth with braces. So if you don’t fight against that pressure by wearing a retainer, your teeth can shift back into their former alignment.

teeth shifting after braces
after braces teeth shifting

One study also noted that aging and bone growth in childhood can contribute to teeth shifting after braces. The natural changes that happen in your bone density with time can make your teeth change positions.

Another reason teeth may shift after braces is due to a phenomenon that doctors call “mesial drift.”

Mesial drift is the tendency for teeth to constantly push forward in the mouth towards the midline, especially when under pressure. There’s a theory that this drifting tendency is a biological reaction that ensures teeth move forward to fill in any gaps and stay close together for efficient chewing.

Anyways, it’s quite possible that mesial drift is responsible for teeth drifting forwards and crowding after they had been moved back by braces.

Teeth Shifting After Wisdom Tooth Removal

Teeth Shifting After Wisdom Tooth Removal

Are you worried that your teeth will shift out of place after getting your wisdom teeth removed? According to most modern orthodontists, don’t need to worry about that since wisdom teeth aren’t usually responsible for causing tooth crowding in the first place.

Instead, when there isn’t enough space for wisdom teeth to come in, they tend to get impacted. Impaction can cause other negative effects on the neighboring teeth, but the third molars don’t push hard enough to make all the other teeth shift.

And due to your teeth’s natural tendency to drift towards the front of the mouth, there’s really no chance that they’ll shift backwards once your wisdom teeth are gone.

Teeth Shifting After Extraction

teeth shifting after extraction

It’s very common to experience teeth shifting after you have a tooth extraction. Unlike wisdom teeth, teeth that fall out from the middle of the arch can leave gaps that other teeth will try to fill in. As a result of missing a tooth, you might see tooth behind the empty space start to drift forward and even tip over. Or you might even notice that the tooth directly above or below an empty space starts to shift and move past your bite plane since it doesn’t have an opposing neighbor tooth to stop it.

Teeth Shifting With Age

As you age, your teeth can shift out of place when mesial drift combines with other factors like:

Symptoms of Shifting Teeth

Tooth alignment is about more than just esthetics. Crooked teeth can actually cause some uncomfortable symptoms and lead to big problems in the long run.

Some of the shifting teeth symptoms that you will experience include:

If you notice any of these signs, it’s time to do something to stop teeth shifting any further.

How to Stop Teeth from Shifting?

There are several different ways to stop your teeth from shifting.

The most important thing you can do is to wear a retainer after getting braces. If your teeth have shifted since your braces came off, then you may need to have orthodontic treatment again to repair the damage.

What if you’ve never had braces before? It’s never too late to start orthodontic treatment for the first time.

Teeth Shifting in adults is something very common, and that’s why many adults get their first set of braces later in life. If you’re not keen on the idea of metal brackets and wires, then a set of clear teeth aligners could be the perfect way to straighten out your teeth and prevent them from shifting any further.

what are clear aligners

Aligners that you can order right online are more convenient than traditional braces. Even more importantly, clear aligners tend to work best for mild orthodontic cases where teeth are just beginning to shift out of place.

If you have a gap in your smile, then you can prevent your teeth from shifting by getting a tooth replacement as soon as possible. Good options for replacing lost teeth and maintaining tooth alignment include dental implants, dental bridges, and removable partial dentures.

good oral hygiene to prevent teeth shifting

You can also prevent your teeth from shifting by practicing good oral hygiene to remove plaque daily. Dental plaque can irritate your gums to the point that they swell and pull away from your teeth. Left untreated, gum disease can make your teeth start to drift.

Keep in mind, however, that receding gums can be caused by brushing too roughly. Brush gently with a soft-bristled toothbrush to maintain strong gums and ligaments around your teeth and avoid gum and enamel wear.

teeth shifting prevention

You can also keep the ligaments around your teeth strong and maintain healthy tooth alignment by including crunchy foods in your diet. Those ligaments function on a use-it-or-lose-it principle; if you regularly use your teeth to chew firm foods such as nuts, carrots, and apples, then your teeth are more likely to stay in place. Weak ligaments would allow teeth to easily shift alignment.

Can you stop teeth from shifting without a retainer?

You might be able to prevent shifting teeth if you practice good dental hygiene, eat a balanced diet that includes fresh crunchy foods, and avoid habits like teeth grinding or aggressive teeth brushing. But preventative measures can only do so much.

If your teeth have already shifted, then you will probably need some kind of device to mechanically keep them in place. Otherwise, your poorly aligned bite will only get worse with time. You should also try to figure out what the underlying cause of your shifting teeth could be. Addressing that issue can stop your teeth from moving even further.

Your dentist can examine your teeth to help you identify the cause of your shifting teeth. If it turns out that you do need some kind of mechanical pressure to keep your teeth from moving, then consider trying a clear aligner.

cause teeth shifting
dentist checks teeth shifting

Don’t try to correct shifted teeth at home on your own, however. Using materials like wires, paper clips, or rubber bands to try to stop teeth from shifting can be dangerous and do more harm than good.

"Crowding of teeth at an early age does not necessarily mean orthodontics looms. What is necessary is an honest evaluation by an orthodontist to assess whether crowding requires intervention or the natural growth of the jaws will self-correct the present state of crowding".

Dr. Musikant

Check in with an actual dentist or orthodontist to find out about safe and effective options that can prevent your teeth from shifting; or you can also get more info about the different brands on the market by reading our Smile Direct Club, Clear Correct, Invisalign reviews or our review of the top 6 home teeth aligners (expert aligner producers).

And, of course, if your orthodontist has already prescribed a retainer for you to wear after your braces come off, then definitely wear that as directed. There’s no avoiding it; a retainer is the best way to stop shifting teeth, at this point!


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