What Causes Teeth to Shift in Adults?

Even if you went through the long, painful process of braces, aligners, and retainers as a teenager, your teeth might not stay perfectly straight forever. As an adult, your body goes through a multitude of changes. This includes your skin, muscles, and yes, even your teeth.

While some shifting is natural, you may be wondering what causes teeth to shift in adults.


With age, the natural system that keeps your teeth in place gets weaker. This system consists of your jaw bone, ligaments, muscles, and tissues. As these lose density, you can experience tooth loss and, ultimately, shifting. For adults who suffer a late eruption of wisdom teeth, that can also push teeth forward.

Your gums also begin to recede, along with the breaking down of our periodontal (relating to or affecting the structures surrounding and supporting the teeth) ligaments, which also hold the teeth in place. Usually, our teeth gravitate towards the front of the mouth, which creates crowding.

Poor habits

While ageing is something that we can’t control, bad habits are something that we can. These actions, paired with the vulnerability of ageing, can also cause your teeth to shift. These habits include:

  • Teeth grinding and jaw clenching: The additional, unnecessary pressure can cause your top and bottom teeth to shift. It is very common for this to happen while you’re sleeping, and you may not even be aware of it.
  • Nail biting: While nail biting is primarily a threat because of chipping erosion, the new bacteria introduced to your mouth can also weaken your gums. With gingivitis, your gums grow weaker and also recede much faster than a set of healthy gums.
  • Using your teeth as a tool: This one is fairly self-explanatory. Using your teeth to open packages, remove tags, pull out a watch stem, or other odd uses also puts lots of pressure on your teeth.

By adopting good dental health habits, we can prevent some of the shifting that occurs in teeth.

Miscellaneous causes

Teeth shifting may also be caused by genetics (and often doesn’t present itself until you’re older), but can also be caused by pregnancy. The influx and shifting of hormones can increase blood flow to the gums, making them more susceptible to inflammation.

A chemical produced during childbirth, relaxin, can also soften the periodontal ligaments. While pregnancy is a legitimate cause of teeth shifting, the effects are rarely noticeable unless combined with other factors.

The risks of poorly aligned teeth

There are many risks associated with poorly aligned teeth, although, in most cases, the misalignment is not severe enough to impact your dental health directly.

Even if there isn’t a direct danger to your health, another risk faced is damage to your self-esteem – your smile is one of the first things people notice about you, and if your once-perfect smile begins to change, you may become self-conscious about it.

Listed below are risks associated with shifted or misaligned teeth (medically known as malocclusion).

  • Difficulty flossing or brushing: Regardless of the severity of your misalignment, the most common risk is hindering your flossing and brushing. If your teeth are overlapped or crowded, routine brushing and flossing methods won’t eliminate all of the plaque in your mouth. Plaque buildup can lead to many issues, such as gum disease and tooth decay.
  • Speech impediments: An overbite or gaps in your teeth can cause speech impediments, such as a lisp or a whistle.
  • Interference of chewing: If there is misalignment towards the back of your teeth, it can ultimately interfere with your normal jaw movements, which can affect chewing and cause discomfort.

Fortunately, it’s usually possible to avoid any of the above risks by practising good dental health and visiting your dentist regularly.

What treatment is available?

Whether you’d like to correct your smile for purely aesthetic reasons or to improve your dental health, there are two common routes of treatment:

  • Braces or aligners: A considerably lengthy process with many adjustments, braces correct the misalignment by placing pressure on the teeth and slowly moving them into place. Aligners serve the same purpose, but are made of transparent material instead of metal and are typically less intrusive and uncomfortable. At the end of either treatment, you will need to wear a retainer to maintain the results.
  • Surgery: In cases where your teeth’s misalignment is caused directly by problems in your bone structure, your dentist may recommend surgery. It’s a relatively minor procedure, but even when successful, you may have to wear braces for a short period afterwards.

Getting braces or other teeth-straightening treatments is not exclusive to children and teenagers and can also be obtained by adults. Your smile lasts a lifetime, so don’t let it hold you back!