Teeth can shift or move for a number of different reasons. Sometimes because a new space is created and sometimes it just occurs naturally over time.
Tooth movement due to a new space
In the unfortunate event that a patient has to have a tooth extracted a lot of people ask, “Well what happens if I just leave the space empty?” Most of the time what will happen is the adjacent and/or opposing teeth will collapse into the space. This can happen very quickly in some patients, it usually happens within a year or two of the tooth being extracted. It can then be much more complicated to try to restore the space later on due to the lack of space.
This can also cause issues with the teeth that drifted into the space. For example, if the top tooth drifts down (called supraeruption), it will cause root exposure of the top tooth which can lead to increased temperature sensitivity and increased susceptibility to cavities. If an adjacent tooth tips over into the space it can create an undercut area that is very difficult to clean and can end up leading to bone loss in the area.
Restoration of an empty space in a timely manner after extraction of the tooth will prevent the shifting of other teeth which is why it’s always the recommendation. There are multiple options when it comes to restoring an empty space: bridges, partials, or implants! It’s just about figuring out which option works best for you.
Relapse after orthodontics
Most people get braces when they are teenagers. Overtime retainers get lost or people just stop wearing them. This will lead to ‘ortho relapse’. Without retainer wear, the teeth will tend to shift back to where they started.
Even those who were just born with straight teeth and never needed braces may notice that as they age teeth start to shift and crowd together. Over time, “shift happens”!