Everyone wants to be at the front of the crowd, plane, or line at the DMV, and this is no different when it comes to your teeth. As we age, our teeth have a tendency to shift towards the front or midline (dental vocab. word of the day is, ‘mesial’) from the back (‘distal’) of the arch. The problem is, there’s only so much room up there, so things can start to look a little crowded.
An Anthropological Side Note
If you look at primitive cultures, teeth were commonly used as tools to sharpen objects, soften leathers, and chew a more grain-based diet.
My wife likes to use hers to open packaging and bite the tags off clothing. She tries to blame it on the fact that she was born in a third world country, but I think she just can’t be bothered to look for the scissors. Yes, that’s her in the picture, ‘flossing’ on a cactus.
Obviously, this kind of behavior is going to result in some wear and tear; teeth will become narrow, creating spaces between them. The end result, much like my office desk, is that anytime there’s an open space, something quickly moves into that spot.
How could something with so many consonants be so controversial?
The phenomenon of migrating teeth is known (to the guys wearing white lab coats) as ‘Physiologic Mesial Drift.’ In the past, many dentists believed that it was the eruption of wisdom teeth that caused anterior crowding (my wife says they start to look like gravestones in an old cemetery). The theory being that everything drifts forward to give wisdom teeth room to erupt. This is incorrect, because the majority of growth in the lower jaw is from the condyle (that bony part under your ear) and chin. Obviously, someone with a smaller jaw simply does not have enough space to accommodate as many teeth.
First World Problems
These days we don’t eat a raw diet, or routinely use our teeth as tools (unless you’re my wife), so while the wear doesn’t occur, the ‘drift’ still happens.
If a tooth is missing, it creates a space for adjacent teeth to ‘tip’ into the existing gap, as a result of the mesial drift. This then changes your bite plane, meaning the support of your lower jaw doesn’t occur on the surfaces of the teeth, but mostly in the jaw joint.
Other common contributors can include; mouth breathing, tongue thrusting, everyday chewing forces, and thumb sucking. Teeth erupting too early or late can also create a misalignment.
Regardless of what caused it, when your teeth start to migrate forward, overlapping and crowding occurs, and that becomes both a functional and esthetic problem. Having a ‘snaggle tooth smile’ is the least of your worries with the reality of increased tooth decay, periodontal disease, and TMJ problems.
As an adult, there are several options you can pursue when it comes to treating your crooked smile.
In my office, some of the best candidates are patients who went through the metal brackets and wires as teenagers, but for the usual reasons (lost their retainers some time around moving to/from college or acquiring a chew-on-everything-they-can-find puppy) have noticed that their teeth are no longer as straight as they used to be. Orthodontic treatment using either traditional metal brackets and wires, or a series of customized, removable clear trays are successful and effective ways to correct those problems. Depending on the severity, treatment can take anywhere from 6-18 months.
If you have questions we haven’t answered, or if you’ve noticed that your front teeth are getting crowded, too, contact us to come by the office to discuss your options.
I promise it won’t involve any painter’s tape!