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What is Dental Drift?

There could be many reasons why an adult tooth is lost or extracted:

  • Severe decay

  • A tooth split all the way to the root

  • Periodontal/gum disease

  • Etc.

If a person is missing a tooth (or several!), we almost always recommend getting a replacement as soon as possible - be it an implant, bridge or denture so that functionality is also restored. Not only does every tooth serve a specific function (like cutting or tearing into food vs grinding food down to a paste, etc), but they also keep each other in check.

In a perfect arch, each tooth is touching its neighbouring two teeth (with the exception of the last molar, which only touches one adjacent tooth). This improves stability of the arch - and made to fit perfectly into the opposing arch (to create a mortar-and-pestle type action for grinding down food).

If a tooth is missing and no action is taken to replace it, the patient overtime will experience what is called mesial drift, where the remaining teeth shift into the gap. Here is a short clip we have prepared to show you what we mean:

It doesn't happen so quickly in real life (it's a gradual change over the years) - but not only will the adjacent teeth shift into the empty spot, but if the opposing tooth in your other arch is making contact with nothing to bite with, it will also grow into the space (this is called an extruded tooth and most often happens if consecutive teeth are missing).

Unfortunately, once dental drift is observed, it can make replacement options a bit trickier. For example, getting an implant is fairly clear cut if the neighbouring teeth are where they should be, then the implant is inserted straight down. But if there is mesial drift, the crowns of the neighbouring teeth can sometimes get in the way of the replacement:

The good news is that even with mesial drift, all is not lost. The bad news is that it would require additional treatment. For example, one can choose to use orthodontics to restraighten the crooked teeth, then get a replacement. If the neighbouring tooth isn't too crooked and has a particularly bulbous crown, it can be shaped so that a replacement would fit.

As we say, they are options, but they're obviously not ideal - because one requires a course of orthodontic braces (which many people don't want - as this can take a few months or even years to correct - remember, it took years for the natural teeth to make these shifts in the first place!) and the other requires shaping a potentially healthy tooth!

So, the take-home message? If you are missing a tooth, take action as soon as you can. Book yourself in for our dentists to do an examination and have your options all laid out for you. Don't forget to ask about the risks and benefits of your options so that you can weigh them out yourself and make an educated decision you can be happy with. When you're ready, we're here for you: (416) 226-6688.


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