6 Reasons Your Teeth Shift Unevenly

Though you may think that your teeth are set in place, they actually move and adjust position throughout your life. This is typically normal and unproblematic. However, in some cases, this movement can be more pronounced, causing crookedness (malocclusion) and sometimes pain in the teeth. 

There are many reasons that teeth change position, such as from wearing braces, having teeth removed, grinding teeth, growth of the jaw, and having gum disease. Even wearing a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy device for sleep problems can cause teeth to shift. This article discusses the causes of tooth shifting as well as what you can do treat it. 

Crooked teeth of a young girl close-up

Yevhenii Orlov / Getty Images

Braces

Braces are brackets worn on the teeth to straighten them by increasingly pressuring them into position. Other orthodontic treatments, such as wearing Invisalign (clear braces) or other types of removable retainers and appliances, can also be used or may be called in to maintain the adjusted smile.

While braces and other orthodontic treatments are effective in fixing uneven smiles, it is possible for the teeth to start shifting back to their original positions. For instance, your teeth may start gradually reverting to how they were if you lose your retainer or stop wearing it after your braces have been removed.

Additionally, significant motion can arise due to problems with fixed retainers, which are those that are permanently bonded to teeth. Like other types, these are often installed following braces to preserve tooth alignment. Issues with these retainers, like broken wires and problems with the bonding agents, can cause teeth to shift.

Orthodontic Checkups

Make sure you’re consistent about going to follow-up appointments during and after orthodontic treatment. This way you'll be able to catch tooth shifting or other issues. As you undergo treatments, check-ups may be necessary as often as once a month. You should also let your orthodontist know if you encounter any issues or note damage to your appliances.  

Tooth Removal

Another common cause of tooth shifting is tooth removal (also known as dental extraction). This may be done to correct:

  • Crowding of the teeth
  • Crookedness
  • Dental abscesses (infection at the root of the tooth)
  • Advanced gum disease
  • Tooth impaction (in which a tooth cannot completely come in because it is positioned against another tooth or tissue)
  • Damage due to trauma or a fall

Following a dental extraction—or if you lose a tooth and an open space results—the remaining teeth naturally readjust their position, gradually filling in the gaps.

Tooth Grinding

Also known as bruxism, tooth grinding can also cause a range of dental issues. In these cases, people grind their teeth and/or clench or tighten their jaw excessively, which can damage teeth. Some people primarily do it at night, which tends to be more problematic, while others clench or grind due to stress or tension throughout the day.

Along with causing headaches, jaw pain, and clicking and popping in the jaw, bruxism may affect the position and integrity of your teeth. The consistent pressure put on the teeth by this behavior may cause teeth to shift, leading to crooked teeth and other problems.

Jawbone Growth

Throughout infancy, childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, the upper and lower jaw—the maxilla and mandible, respectively—grow and change shape. Typically, during the teenage years, mandible growth exceeds that of the maxilla, which can cause tooth crowding in your lower set of teeth. In addition, this can lead to malocclusion (misalignment of the teeth).

The resulting tooth shifting is not problematic in most cases. However, it's possible that changes in bite may occur, which requires treatment.      

Gum Disease

Gum diseases, such as gingivitis (inflamed, bleeding gums) and periodontitis (infected gums), may also lead to tooth shifting through secondary bone loss. Periodontitis (a complication of gingivitis) starts to affect the underlying bone, which can cause teeth to become loose or fall out. Some with this condition experience significant tooth mobility as a result.

CPAP

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy is the use of a special device to treat sleep apnea, a condition that causes breathing disruptions and snoring. Worn overnight, the CPAP apparatus delivers filtered, pressurized air through a tube attached to a full-face mask, a nasal mask, or nasal pillows (earbud-like inserts for the nostrils).

In rare cases, using a CPAP device can cause teeth to move out of alignment, leading to uneven shifting. The air pressure is thought to push the tongue forward, causing shifting and flaring in the front teeth. In addition, retraction, or a slant inward of upper teeth have also been reported because of full-face mask use.     

Treatment

Removable Retainer

Among the primary means of preventing tooth shifting is wearing a removable retainer. Most often needed after braces have been taken off to preserve the changes to your smile, these appliances apply pressure to keep your teeth from shifting out of place. They’re made of customized acrylic, with wires to put pressure on your teeth.

Usually, your orthodontist will give you specific guidance about how to care for and wear this appliance. Typically, this will involve:

  • Wear the retainer for at least 12 hours a day for the first six months.
  • Continue to wear it at night after that period.
  • If it feels tight, you need to wear it more.
  • Take the retainer off when eating.

Special retainers such as spring aligners can help treat very mild tooth movements.

Permanent Retainer

In some cases, your orthodontist may recommend you have permanent, or lingual, retainers installed to correct misalignments due to shifting teeth. These braided or bare wires are customized and bonded to the inside of your teeth, functioning much like removable retainers. Though highly effective, you need to ensure you’re cleaning them properly to avoid plaque buildup.

Mouth Guard

Another means of managing tooth shifting is to treat grinding or clenching by using a mouth guard. Worn at night, these provide cushioning between the upper and lower sets of teeth. This, in turn, eases the pressure placed on the jaws and teeth that causes teeth to move out of place.

Proper Oral Hygiene

Critical to taking on shifting teeth is preserving their health. Good oral hygiene means:

  • Brushing properly twice a day
  • Flossing at least once a day
  • Avoiding smoking
  • Eating a well-balanced diet
  • Drinking fluoridated water
  • Keeping up with dental appointments for cleanings and checkups

Summary

Teeth can shift for a variety of reasons, including those people can control (braces, tooth removal, retainers, using a CPAP) and those people can't (jawbone growth, tooth grinding). There is a variety of treatment methods used to fix shifting of the teeth, including using removable or permanent retainers and wearing a mouthguard. If you feel that your teeth are shifting, see a dental professional as soon as you are able.

A Word From Verywell

Whether arising after orthodontic adjustments, dental extractions, or other issues, there’s no doubt that misalignment of your teeth can be a burden. Crooked teeth can cause physical discomfort and affect confidence and feelings of self-worth. The good news is that this issue can be managed. Be proactive. If you’re noticing issues with your smile, see your dentist to correct problems early.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can I stop my teeth from shifting?

    Yes, with help. Managing shifts of your teeth typically requires the use of orthodontic or dental appliances. You may have to wear a removable retainer or have a permanent one installed. Additionally, if this issue is caused by tooth grinding, wearing a mouth guard while you sleep can help.

  • Is it normal for teeth to shift?

    Yes. Everybody’s teeth shift somewhat as they grow and their jaws develop, so some changes to alignment are normal and expected. This is why adolescents and teens often develop crooked teeth. Further, tooth shifting can occur after braces are taken off or from tooth grinding.

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11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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