Why Do Teeth Shift with Age?

This time in our blog, we answer the question, “Why do teeth shift with age?” Although we often think of teeth as firmly rooted and stationary, they are not. As we age, many changes in our mouths can cause teeth to shift. 

Generally, a minor shift is a natural process and may not pose a problem. However, larger shifts can lead to serious oral health concerns. Let’s take a closer look. First, we’ll look at how teeth stay in place.

How Teeth Are Held in Place

Many people believe that teeth are held in place by the bone and gum tissue, but this is not accurate. They are always somewhat mobile and attached by a flexible, important ligament.

The periodontal ligament (PDL) fastens teeth to the jaw with connective tissue and collagen. Light yellow minerals and collagen on the outside of the tooth’s roots, called cementum, interlocks with root dentin and helps to secure the ligament.  

When you chew food, clench, or grind your teeth (bruxism), the periodontal ligament absorbs excess pressure. Fortunately, the PDL makes it relatively easy to extract a tooth if necessary. With no direct bone-to-bone connection, your jawbone isn’t damaged.

Teeth Shift Naturally

Throughout life, teeth shift naturally and more with age. Through the process of mesial drift, they tend to move gradually toward the front of the mouth and lips as we age.

Through normal daily chewing, friction grinds down tooth enamel, which can eventually create gaps. Often, acid erosion breaks down the enamel, and sometimes an injury damages teeth. As a result, teeth may shift more.

Crooked and Crowded Teeth

Most people aren’t born with a perfect smile. As many as nine in ten people have teeth that are at least slightly misaligned. Such misalignments are called malocclusions ( or a bad bite) and often involve crowded or crooked teeth. 

In such cases, it’s harder for anyone to adequately clean between the misaligned teeth. Unfortunately, without orthodontic treatment to straighten the teeth, decay and disease are more likely over time.

The longer malocclusions remain untreated, the more related problems may develop. That’s why getting braces or Invisalign is much more than cosmetic. In fact, such orthodontic care can improve your health and keep teeth from shifting with age.

Grinding Teeth Can Loosen Them

Sometimes, excessive teeth grinding and jaw clenching can enlarge the PDL, allowing the tooth to become relatively loose. Then, teeth can shift, and the more space around the tooth, the more it may move. If you grind your teeth, it can damage surrounding bone and gum tissue. 

Also, bruxism often leads to problems with the temporomandibular joint in the jaws. As people age, the damages caused by bruxism tend to accumulate. However, an orthodontist can help. Please, give us a call if you suspect you may be grinding your teeth at night or have TMJ symptoms.

Tooth Loss Causes Big Shifts

Teeth can shift more when a tooth is lost, leading to malocclusions. Notably, as many as 178 million Americans are missing at least one tooth. Worse, as many as 30 percent of adults between 65-74 years old have no natural teeth at all.

In cases of missing teeth, treatment can prevent your teeth from shifting in ways that harm your oral health. If gaps between teeth remain, the underlying bone can recede, causing negative changes to your appearance and health.

If you have missing teeth, restorative dentistry and orthodontic treatment ensure your teeth don’t shift into the gap. Please, check out our Smile Gallery for examples of smile transformations, even for those with considerable gaps.

Periodontal Disease 

Importantly, periodontal disease (gum disease) can damage the periodontal ligament PDL and the underlying bone. By avoiding gum disease, you can help keep your teeth from shifting. However, as people age, they are more likely to experience gum disease. By age 30, 47.2% of adults have periodontal disease, and 70.1% of adults over 65 are affected.

Bacteria that cause periodontal disease form plaque and then tartar below the gum line. It’s a big reason why seeing a dentist for routine cleanings is so important.

Keeping Teeth in Place

Orthodontists take advantage of the way teeth move to help guide them to their ideal positions over time. With treatment like braces and Invisalign, we can correct malocclusions and improve your overall health in the process. 

Following successful treatment, your smile will look fantastic! However, for a time, your teeth remain prone to moving. Therefore, everyone wears a retainer to keep teeth permanently in place.

We’ll discuss retainers and how long you may need to wear them following your treatment. By sticking to the plan, you can enjoy better health and a perfect smile for life. 

We hope this helps with the question, “Why do teeth shift with age?” Although teeth shift with age, an orthodontist helps make sure your smile always looks and feels amazing.

Have questions? Call us anytime at 508-872-0555. 

Take a free virtual consultation here. It’s quick and easy, with no obligation to start until you’re ready.

Find out if you’re a candidate for Invisalign or braces, and learn how long treatment would take. Plus, get answers to any questions you may have.

Then, schedule your first in-person visit when you’re ready. It’s that easy!

At Smiles in Framingham, we help the Framingham community and the surrounding areas:

  • Southborough
  • Ashland
  • Wayland
  • Natick
  • Marlborough
  • Hopkinton
  • Holliston


To all my wonderful patients and their families:


The greatest pleasures of my career are watching children grow strong and healthy and seeing smiles become more beautiful. It has been a tremendous privilege to be a part of that growth and transformation. Now, however, it is time for me to slow down and share the care of my patients.


Starting in September 2022, Smiles in Framingham will merge with Moynihan Dental Specialists. I will remain with the practice, but will reduce my hours and give up administrative responsibilities. The wonderful team of people you and I have come to rely on will be staying. They will continue to help care for you. There will also be new faces, new people who will get to know and care for and about you.


Dr. Michael Moynihan is a second generation dentist and orthodontist practicing in Framingham. Dr. Mike, as he is known, is on the faculty of Boston University in the department of orthodontics. We spent two years as teaching partners supervising the Boston University orthodontic residents as they treated special needs children at Franciscan Hospital for Children. It was during that time I came to appreciate both how skilled Dr. Mike is and how much he cares about his patients. I retired from teaching prior to the pandemic, but Dr. Mike still puts much of his time and energy into teaching the next generation of orthodontists.


I met Dr. Daniel Moynihan when he was my student in 2017. Even at that time he was one of my most conscientious students. He cares deeply about all of his patients and I am proud to be associated with him. Dr. Dan is highly skilled with all aspects of orthodontics, including treatment using Invisalign and other aligners.


Dr. Katherine Moynihan and Dr. Christine Chiao are other members of the Moynihan team. Dr. Katherine Moynihan finished her orthodontic training at Boston University in 2021. Dr. Christine Chiao is a pediatric dentist, who also teaches at the Boston University School of Dental Medicine.


Life is an adventure with many chapters, twists, and turns. I enter this chapter of my life looking forward to what comes next and feeling some sadness that this phase of my life is changing. For now, we will be keeping all appointments as scheduled. We will contact you individually about any appointment changes. All orthodontic contracts will be honored with care provided by the orthodontists. I have every confidence that the doctors of Moynihan Dental Specialists will provide you with excellent care for many years to come.


My very best wishes to all of you,


Dr. Deborah Himelhoch