Written by Dr. Tanya Parsad | Medically Reviewed by Dr. Shaista Salam | BDS
Have you looked at yourself in the mirror lately and wondered why your smile seems different now compared to a few years back? It happens to many people as they get older making them feel like their teeth have moved around, causing their smile to look a bit wonky, or there are gaps that weren't there before. This kind of thing can shake an individual's confidence and make them think twice before flashing a smile.
There can be several reasons behind teeth shifting with age or several reasons can work concurrently:
The gum or periodontium supports your teeth and anchors them securely in the bony socket. Plaque or calculus accumulation can cause inflammation of the gingival tissues, inducing gingivitis. This inflammatory condition if left untreated can progress to periodontitis which breaks down the integrity of the periodontal tissues (1). The degradation of the gum tissues weakens the attachment between teeth and gums, resulting in tooth mobility and a shift in the position of teeth.
Grinding of teeth or bruxism is a common yet subconscious habit that can impact and deteriorate oral health over time. Many people develop a habit of gnashing their teeth during the night without being aware of it. The constant grinding and clenching of teeth exerts a low-level force on the gums and teeth that can wear down the protective layer of the teeth (2).
The lower jawbone or mandible tends to grow in an upward and forward direction. This leads to the lower incisors being tipped lingually with increasing age. Over time this can cause crowding of lower teeth, affecting the bite and causing a shift in the upper teeth. Usually, these changes are negligible but some people may need to correct their bite at later stages of their life (3).
The loss of teeth can cause a physiological shift in teeth. The teeth have a lifelong tendency to drift towards the front of the dental arch or the lip. This can cause crowding of teeth, changes in bite, and lead to the formation of gaps between teeth as they continue to drift (4).
Shift in tooth position can manifest as pain and discomfort causing aches in the jaw, around the gums, and sometimes headaches. This discomfort can be attributed to subtle changes in how the teeth positions have impacted the overall bite
An irregular bite can cause difficulty in chewing and causing increased pressure on certain teeth. This can create a general sense of oral imbalance causing a person to feel that their upper and lower teeth don't sit with each other like before.
Visual cues are crucial in identifying age-related tooth shifts. With age, a person may recognize that their teeth appear more irregularly placed, more prominent, or spaced out than before. This change in alignment can affect the overall symmetry of the face and the aesthetics of the smile line.
People who use dental appliances such as retainers or removable partial dentures may observe a change in comfort or fit of the appliance. Age-related shifts in tooth positions can affect the harmony of these appliances with natural teeth, leading to a sense of discomfort or a noticeable change in the fit.
Teeth that have shifted may become more sensitive to hot or cold stimuli. Changes in tooth position can expose previously protected areas, leading to heightened sensitivity and discomfort in response to temperature variations. Recognizing these signs and symptoms can prompt individuals to seek timely dental evaluations, facilitating early intervention and management of age-related teeth shifting.
Ignoring the shifting of teeth with age can lead to exacerbation of the misalignment of teeth. As teeth continue to drift and change positions, an existing misalignment can worsen, leading to more pronounced irregularities in the smile and occlusal bite. This can lead to increased wear of teeth, difficulty in chewing, and an overall compromise of dentoalveolar balance.
TMJ or the temporomandibular joint connects the lower jawbone to the skull and can be found on both sides of the face. This joint ensures the gliding and translatory movements of the jaw. Irregularities in the fit of the upper and lower jaws can affect the bite of a person resulting in additional stress on the TMJ. This can lead to discomfort, pain, and restricted jaw movement (5).
Noticeable changes in tooth positions can result in the creation of surfaces that are difficult to clean. These spaces can also become more prone to accumulation of food and dental decay as these harder-to-reach areas become more susceptible to bacterial accumulation (6).
Shifting teeth may expose parts of the teeth that were previously protected, leading to increased sensitivity. This heightened sensitivity can make consuming hot or cold foods and beverages uncomfortable and may impact overall oral comfort (7).
Continued shifts in teeth positions can severely impact an individual's aesthetic appearance and in turn, affect their self-esteem. Midline diastemas (space between the front teeth) or an open bite (when there is space between upper and lower teeth when the mouth is closed) is commonly seen in adults seeking orthodontic treatment (8).
Severe shifts in tooth positions, especially in the case of underlying periodontal issues, may contribute to an increased risk of tooth loss. The destabilization of teeth within the jawbone can lead to a domino effect, potentially resulting in the loss of multiple teeth.
Clear aligners are a modern orthodontic treatment modality that offer correction of misaligned teeth aesthetically and comfortably. Aligner treatment offers patients a set of removable trays that are transparent and aesthetically pleasing. These trays exert continuous light pressure on the teeth, guiding them into their desired corrected positions slowly. Clear aligners are a popular choice amongst adults seeking orthodontic treatment since they allow the correction of a smile with minimal pain and discomfort.
Adults, in particular, opt for clear aligners due to their discreet appearance and the convenience they offer as compared to traditional braces. Adult orthodontics may take a longer time than the time required for treatment in teenagers due to increased bone density in adults, but the results are equally effective (9) .
Retainers are removable acrylic plates or clear aligner trays that are given to patients at the end of their orthodontic treatment. Retainers ensure that teeth do not migrate back to their original position after the removal of braces. Hence patients need to wear their retainers for the time recommended by their orthodontist.
Traditional braces are a fixed orthodontic treatment method that can correct misaligned teeth and moderate to severe malocclusions. Traditional braces can be metallic or ceramic depending on what the patient desires.
Despite being the obvious action, many adults become slack with taking care of their oral hygiene as they age. Simply taking care of your teeth can reduce the risk of teeth shifting. Brush your teeth at least twice a day while using adjunctive modalities such as floss and mouthwash once a day to ensure proper oral hygiene.
Visit your dentist regularly so you are informed about any changes seen in your teeth' position. This will ensure a timely intervention if needed while also optimizing your oral health
Wear your provided retainers after the completion of your aligner or braces treatment. These retainers can seem like a hassle in the beginning but they can avoid the problem of fixing shifted teeth later. If a patient believes that they will forget to wear retainers regularly the option of fixed retainers can also be provided by the orthodontist.
As we get older, our teeth can change positions slowly. This happens for various reasons like gum issues, grinding, or losing a tooth. Ignoring these shifts could lead to problems like trouble chewing, more cavities, or even changes in how our smile looks. It's essential to notice these changes early and see a dentist regularly to keep our teeth and smile healthy as we age. Taking care of our teeth helps us avoid issues and keeps our smiles looking and feeling good as the years go by.