As you age, you may notice changes in your teeth. Even if you’ve had braces as a child, your teeth won’t stay on the same place forever.
Have you wondered what causes teeth to change position as we age, whether or not it’s a problem, and what can be done about it? We posed these questions to dentists to hear what they had to say. Here’s what they told us.
Teeth move throughout life, at least a little bit. In fact, in healthy mouths, it is quite common for the lower front teeth to become more crowded as people grow older due to the continued downward and forward growth of the lower jaw. In fact, in thin people, this may be recognized as what is commonly called a “witch’s chin” because the chin also becomes more prominent as we age. Orthodontic therapy, or “braces,” can be done at any age to straighten crooked teeth, but it is important to understand that perfectly straight teeth are not consistent with nature.
Of more concern, is bite shifting due to disease processes. Two examples are gum disease and degenerative joint disease. Gum disease causes bone loss and loss of support of the teeth, allowing them to move more easily during normal function. Treatment of this type of bite shifting requires adequate management and stabilization of the gum disease first and then treatment to stabilize the bite, which might mean orthodontic therapy, bite adjustments, extractions, or extensive reconstructive dentistry. Degenerative joint disease, a form of “TMD,” causes changes to the shape of the “knuckle” of the jaw joint just in front of the ear. Since the lower jaw pivots on this joint (there are two, one on each side) much like a wheelbarrow pivots on the wheel to move, if this joint shrinks due to bone breakdown like might occur in osteoarthritis, then the bite might shift causing the back teeth to hit harder than the front teeth and causing back tooth damage. In fact, the current thinking is that heavy wear and tooth destruction may actually be caused by changes in the TMJ, which is a paradigm change from previous belief that wear and grinding causes TMJ problems.
These are just a few causes of bite shifting, but there are many. As with anything concerning, please ask your dentist about any concerns you might have about bite changes. Often, the patient is the first to notice subtle changes.
Teeth always want to move forward. As they wear on their surfaces in-between they move closer together; this is all normal. If they are a little crooked they will become more so with time. If someone wants to stop this from happening they would have to have a retainer they wear at night. This should hold things in place although I don’t think we can control all wear and movement. Crooked teeth are a concern generally because they are harder to clean and therefore more likely to decay or develop gum problems. Sometimes crooked teeth can unbalance the bite which in turn can lead to jaw soreness or loose teeth. Some movement can be corrected with braces or Invisalign. Usually, if you are getting your teeth checked every six months the dentist should be watching for these problems. If you think there is a concern please bring it up at your visit.
Teeth are only stable when you have a full complement of teeth and your bite is balanced. All teeth lean toward moving forward. Once a tooth is removed, the space left behind begins a domino effect that results in the shifting of your teeth. The teeth behind the empty space will drift into the gap left from the extracted tooth. The tooth immediately in front of the gap may also drift posterior into this space. The teeth opposing this gap in the opposing arch will want to drop into this space.
The end result is bite discrepancies and possible TMJ complications that may occur because of this. Bite issues can also lead to further tooth loss and deterioration of your teeth.
Another major complication that can occur is when you have teeth removed and have a removable denture constructed to replace the missing teeth. Once a tooth is removed, the bone in your jaw begins to shrink and disappear. This happens when you lose one or all of your teeth. As the jaw shrinks the dentures become loose and ill-fitting. If the opposing jaw still has teeth present, the teeth will drift and the bite relationship becomes pathologic. All of this leads to complications of ill-fitting teeth and potential TMJ disorders. TMJ disorders can bring a lifetime of pain and discomfort.
Some dentists recommend a conventional bridge to replace the missing teeth. The complications of this type of treatment are damage to the adjacent abutment teeth and shrinking of bone where the tooth was extracted.
The only sure way to replace your missing teeth without bone loss and possible bite issues is with dental implants. Dental implants not only replace the crown of the tooth in the oral cavity but the implant replaces the root of the tooth in the bone. This is the most long-lasting and natural way to replace any missing teeth. Conventional crown and bridge and dentures will lead to bone loss, bite problems, damage to adjacent teeth, all leading to further bone loss and possible TMJ problems.
Do yourself a favor and replace any missing teeth with the only sure replacement treatment, dental implants.
According to the dentists, some general movement of teeth is simply to be expected as we age, but it can also be a sign of possible bone loss from gum disease or changes in the joints that allow our jaws to move.
As recommended above, if you notice a change in your teeth or the way your bite closes, you should bring it to the attention of your dentist so that they can keep an eye out for possible causes. As always, you should be sure to have regular exams to check for possible issues so that they can be treated before becoming bigger problems.