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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.

If you’ve had braces or other orthodontic procedures to correct tooth alignment, your teeth have been moved from their natural positions.

After 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 a natural phenomenon. The movement may be more pronounced in some people, while others may experience very little movement.

Individuals with a fixed or lingual retainer, which is a retainer permanently bonded to the inside of teeth after orthodontic treatment, are also at risk of some tooth movement. However, research published in the American Journal of Orthodontics & Dentofacial Orthopedics suggests that most of the time tooth shifting occurs 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 the gums and jawbone. If there’s been bone loss due to gum disease or other health problem, it’s harder for the teeth to remain anchored in place after the braces come off.

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 losing a canine tooth or incisor. The teeth on either side of it may shift towards each other in the new space left by the extraction.

The best way to avoid this problem is to replace missing teeth with dental implants or a bridge that spans the space of the missing tooth or teeth.

Your teeth are under an assortment 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 the face and mouth to move, adding more pressure to your teeth.

Those minor stressors may cause very minor changes to your teeth alignment, but they may be enough to consider braces in adulthood. Other, more substantial, factors may cause tooth movement over time. These include:

Jawbone growth

As you get older, your jawbone grows forward and narrower. At first this can cause your lower teeth to become more crowded. Over time, the change on 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 for some people, tooth extraction and bridgework or implants may be needed to correct their bite.

Gum disease

Gum disease, or periodontitis, weakens the gums that help keep teeth in place. Loose or shifting teeth is one of many serious complications of gum disease, according to the American Dental Association.

Teeth grinding

Grinding your teeth at night may not only wear the teeth down, but cause teeth to shift over time. This condition, called bruxism, is very common. It affects up to 50 percent of young children and about 8 percent of middle-aged adults, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

CPAP

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 is 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 study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine acknowledged that CPAP therapy can cause some tooth movement. They suggest that people using CPAP be aware if any changes in their bite occur, and to work with an orthodontist to prevent or correct any major shifting.

Whether or not you’ve had orthodontic work or a tooth extraction, there are concrete steps you can take starting today to at least reduce the amount of tooth shifting that goes on in the years ahead.

Removable retainer

Chances are, once you’ve 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.

Permanent retainers

Fixed, or lingual, retainers are generally quite effective in maintaining the alignment of your teeth, and should be at least considered as a treatment once your braces come off.

If you get a fixed lingual retainer, be sure to have it checked regularly by your orthodontist. A problem with a bond to just one tooth could lead to problems requiring additional orthodontic treatment.

Address teeth grinding

You may not be aware that you grind your teeth, but a good dentist can probably spot the signs of it 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
  • regular dental checkups
  • avoiding behaviors such as smoking that can harm your dental health

If gum disease is a challenge, good dental hygiene may require more frequent dentist appointments and procedures such as teeth scaling and root planing.

Teeth shift after dental procedures and throughout your life, leading to imperceptible changes or significant movement that requires dental or orthodontic attention.

Wearing a retainer consistently after having your braces removed is often one way to keep any shifting to a minimum. The other important step is to maintain good dental hygiene.

If possible, try to visit a dentist regularly so that any changes in your bite or smile can be addressed earlier rather than later.

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