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8 Signs Your Teeth Are Shifting

8 min read
by Dylan Hao |

As baby teeth fall out and permanent crowns come in, it’s common for everyone’s smile to look a little different. But unless your teeth are misaligned enough to require braces, your slightly crooked tooth or that little gap between your two front teeth are just quirks of your smile. 

Most of the time, if you need your teeth straightened, it happens during your teenage years. But what happens when the smile you thought was permanent starts to change?

This is probably a result of your teeth shifting, and it can happen to anyone, even if you’ve had braces in the past. If you catch it early enough, though, you may be able to limit the damage to your once-straighter smile. 

So, how do you know your teeth are shifting? Watch for these signs. If any sound familiar, keep reading to find out how to get help

1. You Have Gum/Dental Issues

Your teeth will shift over time in such minute ways that you don’t even notice it’s happening. Gradually, with aging, they’ll move toward the front center of your mouth as your jaw changes shape.

When you have weak teeth and gums, it’s easier for the teeth to shift since they’re not as firmly anchored. Sometimes, this is a genetic, hereditary issue. 

But in many people, it’s a result of gum disease (gingivitis), which causes the tissues in the upper and lower gums to become infected. 

In the early stages of gingivitis, this problem is reversible with improved dental hygiene and regular dentist visits. But left untreated, it turns into periodontitis, a progressive disease in which infection and bacteria eat away at the periodontal tissues and jaw bone.

When that happens, the teeth don’t have the strong support they need to stay in place, and they begin to shift.

Tooth extractions make this worse, as the surrounding teeth gradually drift over and up or down to fill in that empty space. To prevent further jaw bone damage, talk to your dentist about any dentistry options available to you, such as implants.

2. You Had Braces But Skipped the Retainer

Think of all that time you spent wearing your braces and missing out on popcorn. If you skipped wearing the retainer afterward, your teeth may return to their old positions.

Your teeth are anchored in place by your jawbone and connected via a periodontal ligament. This ligament is similar to a strong rubber band. It can stretch, but eventually, it adjusts to its “final” location using the bone to cement it securely. 

Braces apply subtle pressure on the teeth and ligament, gradually shifting them into the proper alignment. But even after the orthodontic devices are removed, the ligaments can pull the teeth back to their original position.

That’s why a retainer is essential if you want to keep your newly straightened teeth. This handy oral appliance holds them in their adjusted place until they are strong enough to stay there permanently. 

How long you should wear your retainer depends on your teeth. Your orthodontist will give you a “bare minimum” time frame. If you don’t (or didn’t) listen and keep wearing the retainer for that period, there’s a good chance your teeth will shift back to their old homes.

3. Your Jaw is Misaligned

You might think that having your jaw out of alignment would be easily noticeable (ahem, ouch), but the truth is that many of us are walking around with this ailment and don’t know it!

Mild jaw misalignments can sneak up on you. Their symptoms are subtle at first, showing up as headaches, neck pain, and sensitive teeth. Gradually, the warning signs become more severe, causing trouble with eating or talking and more serious facial and neck pain.

Short of an injury to the head, most causes of a misaligned jaw, like bruxism and TMDs (temporomandibular joint disorders), are hard to recognize early. These conditions cause your jaw muscles to clench and grind while you sleep, putting extra stress on the bones and teeth. Soon, this force pushes the TMJ (temporomandibular joint), which connects the jaw and skull, out of place.

Since the jaw is the anchor for our teeth, they can shift if it’s misaligned. 

Warning signs of a misaligned jaw may include one or more of the following:

  • Pain in the jaw, neck, and facial muscles
  • Clenching or grinding in your sleep
  • Trouble chewing or swallowing without pain
  • Popping or clicking noises when the jaw moves
  • Misaligned teeth

If you think you have a mild case of a misaligned jaw, it’s possible that you’re bruxing or have a TMJ disorder and don’t realize it. (This article can help you narrow down the problem between these two conditions.)

In the meantime, wearing a custom-made night guard, like those we offer at JS Dental Lab, can help reduce the stress on your jaw. Night guards prevent the upper and lower teeth from touching and gaining contact, which stops the jaw muscles from overworking.

4. You Have a Midline Shift or Gaps

Your face is naturally symmetrical, with an invisible line dividing its two sides down the center. This symmetry extends to the teeth and jaws, as well. The upper and lower jaws should align with the middle of your face, a position known as the dental midline. 

When the line between the two front top and bottom teeth isn’t properly aligned with the middle of your nose and eyebrows, you have a midline shift. 

This is a quick way to recognize that your teeth are leaving their natural positions.

New gaps in your teeth are also easy signals of a shift — and a warning sign of periodontal disease. 

5. Your Teeth and Gums Hurt

If you’ve ever had little ones, you know they get fussy when their teeth are coming in. If you seem to be experiencing a similar kind of tooth pain, they might be moving.

Teeth and gum sensitivity are warning signs of something going on under the surface. This discomfort usually only happens when the nerves are exposed, the enamel is thinning, or the gum tissue is infected. All of these problems can lead to tooth movement and other serious dental conditions.

Whether it’s shifting teeth or another issue, visit your dentist as soon as possible. They’ll help you determine what’s causing the sensitivity and develop a treatment plan.

6. You Have Certain Lifestyle Habits That Harm Your Teeth

Some habits are good; some aren’t so great. When it comes to your oral health, there are certain activities that can significantly harm your teeth and lead to those shifts you’re concerned about.

One of the most impactful negative habits is bad dental hygiene. If you’re not brushing and flossing daily, the bacteria in your mouth are thriving. When left unchecked, they get under your gums and in the holes in your teeth, causing gum disease and tooth decay.

Untreated bruxism can also hurt your enamel. Teeth grinding at such a strong bite force can create cracks and chips in the enamel or erode the top surfaces and flatten them.

Other not-so-helpful habits include:

  • Using your teeth to open things
  • Chewing on hard objects like your nails, ice, or pen caps
  • Using tobacco products

7. You Wear a CPAP

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a sleep disorder that happens because of a blockage in the airway. Because the windpipe is constricted, those with OSA have a harder time breathing. It’s especially dangerous when the person with OSA is sleeping and can’t control their breath.

Patients with OSA are often prescribed CPAP machines, short for continuous positive airway pressure. The machine is worn over the mouth and nose during sleep, ensuring a constant airflow.

However, researchers have documented the potential for teeth shifting from the ongoing use of CPAP machines. Their process of forcing the tongue to thrust forward (a safety design intended to prevent tongue airway blockages) can have the unintended side effect of unwanted tooth movement.

This tooth shift can be corrected with orthodontic devices. Talk to your doctor about your concerns, and discuss the potential treatment options you may have to fix the shifting teeth while still treating your OSA.

8. You’ve Had a Head Injury or Play Contact Sports

An injury to the facial area can cause swelling, which impacts the jaw and TMJ alignment. Even an upper head injury can lead to lower jaw trauma, as the swelling can extend internally.

If you’re in a contact sport, be sure to wear a mouth guard and helmet when possible. These devices protect your head and jaw from damaging contact that could cause significant damage. 

Injury can happen from accidents, too. In addition to concussions, watch for any sign of jaw or dental changes after hits to the head and facial area.

FAQs About Shifting Teeth

So you’re pretty sure you have symptoms of teeth shifting, and you want to fix the problem immediately. What can you do?

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about shifting teeth to help you understand what’s happening in your mouth.

Is Teeth Shifting Painful?

When your teeth move from anything other than trauma to the face, it happens gradually. These incremental movements in the teeth position themselves don’t cause pain.

But if the shift is due to common causes like periodontal disease, bruxism, or TMJ disorders, there can be discomfort from those conditions.

Do I Need To Go To The Doctor If My Teeth Are Shifting?

It’s always wise to visit your dentist as soon as possible when you notice anything unusual with your dental health, such as shifting teeth. Right now, the issue may be cosmetic, but if the reason for the movement isn’t fixed, it could lead to more serious (and expensive) oral health issues.

How Can I Stop My Teeth From Shifting? 

Not every misalignment needs braces to fix it. Instead, your dentist or orthodontist may recommend wearing a retainer. There are two main kinds: removable retainers and fixed versions, and you can even get clear aligners. 

For more about these orthodontic treatment options, check out The Ultimate Guide to Dental Retainers: Types, Care, and Benefits

Can I Prevent Them From Shifting More Without A Retainer?

Maybe you don’t want to wear a retainer all day and night (and keep up with it, too). Another option to prevent tooth shifting is a night guard, worn only while sleeping. 

These are the first line of defense to protect your teeth from further bruxism damage. As long as you wear your night guard every night, keep good dental hygiene habits, and visit the dentist for cleanings and exams, you may be able to minimize any further shifting.


If you’re concerned about the alignment of your teeth and those signs of tooth shifting, a visit to the dentist is in order. They’ll take X-rays to determine if the movement is from jaw bone loss, periodontal disease, or something else related to your dental health.

While the causes of teeth shifting vary, the results of untreated movement are all similar: gum disease, tooth sensitivity, and, eventually, tooth loss. 

Strong oral hygiene habits, regular dental checkups, and wearing a JS Dental Lab custom night guard or an orthodontic retainer can all help reduce further shifting and restore your beautiful smile.

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