Shifting Teeth
April 01, 2014
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Although healthy teeth feel stable to their owner, the reality is that teeth are constantly adrift in a sea of bone.  Unless one has a set of false teeth (dentures) or permanently bonded orthodontic retainers, our teeth are constantly on the move.  Shifting back and forth, sometimes up, sometimes down, on almost a daily basis.  Teeth get exercise too.

In general, every tooth wants two partners to make it happy.  They strive for an opposing biting partner as well as a tooth to their front to snuggle at night.  If these partners are not available, your teeth will shift around until they find some stability within the framework of your bite that makes them happy.  Even then, they often continue to shift over time.  This happens so slow and so little that we rarely notice the changes. 

There are evolutionary reasons for all of this and it is certainly a divine design.  Most teeth are wider at the chewing surface than they are toward the gums.  If teeth didn’t shift, large gaps would open up as they wear down.  Although this is a non-issue in today’s world, it would have restricted the rough diets of our ancestors.

So what does this shifting mean to modern man on a day to day basis?  It does affect most of us in one way or another.

The fact that teeth can be moved allows dentists to perform modern orthodontics (braces).  Using slow, steady, directed forces; we can move the teeth and the bite into a healthy, stable position.  This is a way in which we can prevent and solve a variety of jaw joint and esthetic problems.  Opening up your bite to the correct three-dimensional position can also lengthen your lower face and make you look younger.  Most patients are all for this positive treatment side effect.

It is highly likely that every one of us will lose a tooth at some time in our lives.  Whatever the culprit: trauma, gum disease, or decay; a lost tooth can cause a cascade of dental issues.  When a single tooth is lost, the teeth next to and opposing the empty space start to shift around to find their own “happy” places.  This shifting can lead to other problems with the surviving teeth, such as gum disease, food traps that cause cavities, and a closed down bite that can injure your jaw joints.  It is true that nobody has ever died from NOT replacing a single tooth, but lost teeth CAN start a domino effect of problems.

Until next week, keep smiling.

- Questions and comments can be sent to Drs. Parrish at