Braces are one of the best and most effective methods of straightening your teeth. Some people may be surprised when their teeth start shifting long after the braces come off.
Preparing for this shift and knowing what causes your teeth to move can help you maintain your newly straight smile.
The Most Common Reasons for Teeth Shifting After Braces
Teeth commonly move after your braces come off. Here are a few reasons why your teeth shift after braces.
The anatomy and structure of your mouth may cause your teeth to shift back in place after braces. Ligaments hold the teeth in place, and because ligaments and elastic fibers are flexible, they eventually move back to their original position. Braces work by pulling those ligaments to a new position using force. Once the force of the braces is gone, it’s relatively normal for the teeth to begin shifting back.
If your bite changes over time, it can also lead to shifting. The braces can lead to a new layout of your teeth which means you bite down on foods differently. This new chewing method may lead to you biting down and pushing on other teeth, eventually moving them.
The structure of your mouth and the layout of your teeth affects how quickly the teeth begin shifting after braces. This process can take many months or years, and wearing an aligner can help to prevent it.
How you chew, including which teeth interact, can also shift teeth. When you bite down on food, it puts pressure on the ligaments. Depending on your bite, it could be enough pressure to shift your teeth. Excessive chewing, like when chewing gum, can add even more wear and tear to your teeth’s enamel and ligaments, speeding up the rate of movement.
Talking requires the use of muscles in the face and tongue. Take a few moments to pay attention to how your tongue and mouth move when talking. You may notice that your teeth and tongue push up against your other teeth. Certain words require that you push your tongue against specific teeth. Even smiling or yawning can put added pressure on your teeth.
Approximately 5% of people grind their teeth at night. Grinding, also referred to as Bruxism, is an involuntary clenching and grinding of the teeth, most often at night. This leads to excessive pressure on the teeth, which can, over time, be enough to shift teeth. Night-time grinding can also wear down the enamel of your teeth over time. People who are prone to night-time grinding will usually benefit from a nightguard.
Some people may also grind during the day without realizing it. Chronic stress or anger can lead you to clench your jaw and grind your teeth and shift them.
Teeth shifting, also referred to as mesial drift, is a normal part of the aging process. Bodily changes to the gums and bones can cause the teeth to shift over time. Elastin and collagen levels decrease as we age, which leads to wrinkles on the face and more teeth movement.
The jaw also changes shape over time. The development of the jaw can lead to the teeth finding a new placement where they fit best. Common conditions in older generations can also affect oral health, including thyroid issues or osteoporosis. Other medical conditions, like sleep apnea, that require the use of a CPAP machine, can also lead to minor teeth shifting.
Bad Oral Hygiene
Bad oral hygiene, including tooth decay or gum disease, can also cause the teeth to shift over time. As decay builds up on the teeth, it can change the tooth’s structure, affecting its placement. While regular brushing and flossing may not prevent all teeth movement from occurring, it can help you avoid dental problems that may lead to a lot of movement.
If you have to have other types of dental work, such as extracting a tooth, it can affect the layout of the rest of your teeth. The teeth will naturally accommodate and move to fill spaces. For this reason, many dentists will recommend using dental implants or bridges to fill the space when a tooth extraction is necessary.
It’s natural and common for the teeth to shift and move. Braces can correct gaps and teeth overcrowding, but it’s not always a permanent solution. Because the teeth continue to change and move as we age, routine dental care and orthodontist check-ups are important. If your teeth move a lot, your dentist can suggest options to move them back.
How Do I Know if My Teeth Are Shifting?
The earlier you deal with shifting teeth, the better the results. If you’re able to stop the teeth from shifting before they move too far, it usually means you can get them back to the original position in a shorter time. The sooner you recognize and treat shifting teeth, the better the chances that you won’t need to wear braces again.
There are a few ways that you can tell if your teeth are shifting:
- Compare your smile to a post-braces photograph. If you have access to any photos right after your braces came off, you can compare the current position of your teeth to them.
- Shifting teeth can also lead to some discomfort. Teeth sensitivity is usually due to small gaps between the teeth that are prone to stuck food.
- Evaluate the fit of your retainer. If your retainer feels tighter than usual, it may be due to shifting teeth.
- If your smile looks different than it did a few weeks, or months, ago, it could be due to your teeth moving.
If you have any concerns about shifting teeth, your best resource is your orthodontist. Your dentist can look at the placement of your teeth and find out if they are moving. If they notice movement, they can also track how much and how fast they are shifting.
How to Prevent Shifting After Braces
Braces are expensive and can be a right of passage for many teens and young adults. This can make the idea that your teeth can move back to their original position frustrating. However, there are a few things you can do to prevent shifting after braces:
- Be diligent with your retainer. Wearing a retainer is a normal part of braces. Most orthodontists recommend wearing a retainer full-time for the first few months after the braces come off. Eventually, you may be able to wear it only at night.
- Replace your retainer when necessary. Replacing your retainer once it wears down is also important in preventing tooth movement.
- Keep in touch with your dentist. Let your orthodontist know of any movement as soon as possible.
- Keep up with routine dental care. Keeping up with cleanings and check-ups can help your dentist recognize shifting earlier.
- Deal with teeth grinding. While it’s not always easy to spot night-time grinding on your own, your dentist should be able to recognize signs during your regular check-up.
The Importance of Wearing a Retainer After the Braces Come Off
The retainer is an important part of your braces journey. Not only will you have to wear a retainer after removing your braces, but some people may need to wear one indefinitely. Some dental structures and conditions are at a greater risk of shifting teeth, often leading to the orthodontist recommending a permanent retainer fitted to you.
The proper fit and molding of a retainer are also important. If a retainer’s bond breaks or wasn’t bonded properly in the first place, the teeth are more likely to shift. If your teeth have already shifted a lot, it’s best to buy a new retainer rather than trying to use the one designed to fit your post-braces structure.
Proper cleaning of your retainer is also important in maintaining its quality and preventing dental bacteria. Remove your retainer when eating or brushing, taking care to store it in its case.
It may be possible to fix teeth that have shifted without having to wear braces again. However, the solution to shifted teeth after braces depends on how much the teeth have moved and whether they led to gaps or overcrowding of the teeth.
A newly fitted retainer may be an option, depending on how much the teeth move. If there has been significant shifting, a second round of braces may be necessary. The good thing is if it’s your second time wearing braces, you may not have to wear them as long as the first time. There are also many options available today, including invisible or short-term braces.
Shifting teeth can be a normal part of braces. It’s also a frustrating part that can make it feel like your braces journey is never-ending. Preventative care and maintenance of your new smile are crucial in preventing shifting. Sometimes though, even with the best prevention, the teeth can still shift. By alerting your orthodontist as early as possible, you can help prevent too big of a shift.