Why are my Teeth Shifting?

The teeth are designed to bear all sorts of pressures and stresses throughout a person’s lifetime. Smiling, sneezing, talking, and coughing all rely on the facial muscles, which exert minor forces on the teeth with each movement, and even pressing the tongue against the teeth to form certain words places some force on the teeth. Each of these small stresses can affect the alignment of the teeth. While the changes that occur over time may be minor, they can add up and lead to noticeable misalignments of the teeth. There are also more substantial influences that can cause the teeth to shift, including orthodontic treatment, tooth extraction, gum disease, growth of the jawbone, clenching or grinding of the teeth, and medical appliances like CPAP machines. Some of these changes may be minimal, while others could affect the efficacy of the bite and create issues that need to be corrected.

Braces and other orthodontic treatments cause the teeth to move into new positions. Once the orthodontic treatment is completed, the teeth can slowly shift back to their previous positions, which is why it’s so important to wear a retainer as directed following orthodontic treatments. These devices help hold the teeth in their new positions while the bone and other tissues heal and settle. The health of the oral cavity can also influence the mobility of the teeth. If gum disease has led to loss of bone or other oral tissues, the teeth can become more loosely anchored in the mouth; this is especially problematic when gum disease appears during and after orthodontic treatment. Some people also report tooth mobility following extraction of a tooth. While this is less common following wisdom tooth removal, it’s normal for the teeth to migrate into the place created by an extracted canine or incisor. The best way to prevent this from happening is to replace any missing teeth with a dental bridge or implant.

Smaller shifts in the teeth can arise as the jawbone narrows and changes shape as we age. This can cause the lower teeth to crowd, which affects the areas of pressure on the top teeth and can influence the bite over time. In many cases, these changes are very slight and don’t require correction, though some people need to have crowded teeth extracted or repaired with dental prosthetics. Gum disease can also weaken the bone and gums, allowing the teeth to loosen or shift. Gum disease gradually wreaks havoc on the oral tissues and should be treated promptly by a periodontist, and gum disease can also be prevented with effective oral hygiene and routine dental checkups and professional cleanings. Habitually clenching or grinding the teeth can also lead to tooth mobility, as well as wearing down the individual teeth and stressing the jawbone. Dentists recommend that patients with this chronic issue protect their teeth with a mouth guard while sleeping and practice stress-reduction techniques to reduce the frequency of this destructive habit.

If your teeth have started to migrate because you sleep with a CPAP machine, you can work with an orthodontist to correct and prevent additional movement. You can also reduce the likelihood of teeth shifting by keeping your oral tissues healthy. This is best achieved by brushing properly at least twice a day, cleaning between the teeth daily, and seeing your dentist for routine dental checkups and cleanings, which help prevent gum disease and allow dentists to address any changes to the alignment of the teeth before serious complications arise.

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