All people experience teeth shifting throughout their lifetimes. Even for patients who have had braces or other dental work, their teeth will continue to move slightly throughout life. Teeth shifting is common in older adults but can occur at any age, even in adolescents and young adults. Some people also see their teeth shift after orthodontic treatment, especially if they don’t wear a retainer.
When detected early, teeth shifting can be easily resolved when treated immediately. Waiting to resolve teeth shifting can cause dental issues like periodontal problems, cosmetic issues, and even tooth loss.
Unwanted teeth movement happens when there is an upset in the balance of forces in the mouth.
Common causes of teeth shifting include:
Clear aligners are a safe and effective treatment for crowded teeth, gapped teeth, and some cases of overbites and underbites.
It is natural to experience teeth shifting throughout your lifetime. Teeth are under many stresses throughout the day. Talking, smiling, sneezing, and coughing cause face and mouth muscles to move, adding more stress to the teeth.
Common signs and symptoms of shifting teeth include:
You can prevent teeth from shifting by:
To adequately correct shifting teeth, the cause of the problem should be identified and treated accordingly.
If gum disease is the primary factor causing the teeth movement, the patient should be treated by a periodontal specialist (periodontist). Once the disease has been treated, the patient can review options to close the spaces.
The most effective method to fix shifting teeth regardless of the cause is braces, which move teeth by applying pressure.
Braces are the best treatment option for both children and adults. According to the American Association of Orthodontics, one out of five orthodontic patients is over 21.
Traditional braces are made of brackets that are cemented to the teeth, connected by a wire, and held in place with rubber bands. The dentist or orthodontist regularly changes the rubber bands surrounding the wire to help hold the wire in place. New wires will gently put pressure on the teeth to move into their correct position. The brackets may be metal or tooth-colored.
Treatment with dental braces aims to improve individual teeth or the upper and lower jaw position to make them fit together better. Fixed braces stay in the mouth until the end of treatment. It’s essential to keep the teeth and mouth clean for patients with fixed braces.
Patients with fixed braces don’t need to worry about when or whether they have to put their braces in because their braces stay in until the end of the treatment. They also can’t fall out of the mouth while sleeping or doing sports. However, they are always visible when you smile and can’t be removed for special occasions or photos.
Read our clear aligners vs braces comparison to learn which treatment is better for you.
Food can easily get trapped in metal braces, so patients should be extra careful to keep their teeth clean. Not cleaning the teeth carefully can cause cavities, limit braces’ effectiveness, and prolong the amount of time you’ll have to wear them. Patients typically schedule appointments every month rather than the usual twice annually to ensure that their teeth are well cleaned.
The average treatment period for traditional braces is two years.
Invisible braces, called aligners, are made of transparent plastic material and are worn over the teeth to straighten them. Clear aligners are a common alternative to metal braces. Patients will wear a custom-made aligner for a few weeks to a month and will get a new set every few weeks throughout treatment. This way, the teeth are gradually moved into the correct position according to their treatment plan.
Aligners are easily removable and should be removed before eating, brushing, and flossing, making maintaining good dental hygiene much easier than metal braces. To maximize their efficacy, patients should wear them for about 22 hours each day, including sleeping.
Popular direct-to-consumer clear aligner brands include Byte, Candid, and SmileDirectClub. These brands offer their customers convenience because they typically do not require office visits. Customers can take impressions at home and ship to certified orthodontists to have their custom aligners made.
Over the last 20 years, 5 million patients have used clear aligners. The average treatment time for clear aligners is about two years, similar to traditional braces.
Invisalign is one of the oldest brands of clear aligners and has become a household word in the industry. Invisalign currently holds an estimated 10% of the orthodontic market. Just last year, orthodontists prescribed Invisalign trays to 931,000 people, at a cost to the consumer of $3,000 to $8,000 each.
Invisalign aligner trays are replaced every one to two weeks. Patients need to wear Invisalign trays for most of the day (20–22 hours/day) to see results. However, patients can easily remove the Invisalign trays to eat, brush, floss, or attend special occasions.
To get Invisalign, patients first need to consult with a dentist or orthodontist, who will look at their smile and overall oral health and take impressions of their mouth. Then, Invisalign makes their aligners unique to the patient’s mouth for a custom fit. The dentist or orthodontist will then create an overall treatment plan to achieve the patient’s desired results.
Initially developed in 1997, the Invisalign transparent aligner system has treated over 9 million patients.
The best way to prevent unwanted teeth shifting is to ensure an overall healthy oral environment. By preventing tooth loss and gum disease, the undesirable movement of teeth can be avoided.
Patients should always be mindful of the early signs of gum disease. Optimal oral hygiene and regular check-ups with the dentist is the only way to maintain good oral health. If toothbrushing is done correctly, patients can avoid teeth or gum problems. If detected early, a dentist can successfully treat gum disease with no lasting adverse effects.
Preventative steps to reduce the risk of teeth shifting include:
“Braces Have Changed, From Metal to Tooth-Colored to Clear.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, 17 June 2017, www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/braces-have-changed-metal-tooth-colored-clear
“Clear Aligners Market Size, Analysis, Trends, Growth and Forecast.” Verified Market Research, www.verifiedmarketresearch.com/product/clear-aligners-market/
Gault, Isabelle. “Correlations between Orthodontic Treatment and Posture.” Journal of Dentofacial Anomalies and Orthodontics, Éditions SID, Groupe EDP Sciences, 1 Nov. 2010, www.jdao-journal.org/articles/odfen/abs/2008/04/odfen2008114p232/odfen2008114p232.html
“Misaligned teeth and jaws: Treatment with fixed braces”. InformedHealth.org. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. 2020 Jan 16. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK553378/
Pliska, Benjamin T, and Fernanda R Almeida. “Tooth Movement Associated With CPAP Therapy.” Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine : JCSM : Official Publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 15 Apr. 2018, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5886451/
Raman, Dr. Renukanth a/l Patabi Cheta. Why Are My Teeth Moving Apart? 19 June 2015, www.myhealth.gov.my/en/why-are-my-teeth-moving-apart/
Tindera, Michela. “Bracing For Competition? Cheaper Challengers Enter Invisalign's $1.5 Billion Market.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 3 May 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/michelatindera/2018/05/02/bracing-for-competition-cheaper-challengers-enter-invisaligns-1-5-billion-market/?sh=2247f5fb2392
Veitz-Keenan, Dr. Analia, and Dr. Richard Neiderman. “Tooth Mobility: How to Know If Your Teeth Are Shifting, and What to Do about It.” Univision News, Univision, 5 Jan. 2017, www.univision.com/univision-news/health/tooth-mobility-how-to-know-if-your-teeth-are-shifting-and-what-to-do-about-it