It turns out that a number of different factors can contribute to bad bites and poor alignment in adult teeth, from age to genetics to the daily habits we don’t even think about.
Experts are still debating the causes of crooked teeth, but archeologists have supplied one of the leading theories: the Soft Foods Theory. Essentially, the idea here is that our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate foods that were much tougher than what we eat now, which stimulated bone growth in their jaws, giving their teeth a solid foundation to come in straight.
This theory suggests that modern people have crooked teeth more often because our soft, processed food doesn’t encourage as much jaw bone growth and because we’re missing some of the vitamins and minerals that help bones and teeth grow. (Don’t feel too jealous of those strong jaws, though, because the tradeoff was that their teeth wore out much faster.)
Aside from the theorized effects of soft foods on dental alignment, our teeth are also affected by our genes. A child who inherits a small jaw from Mom and big teeth from Dad is going to have a problem with crowding, and children whose parents wore braces will likely also need them.
It would be pretty hard to stick to a hunter-gatherer diet these days and we have no control over our own genes, but there is one factor we can control when it comes to how straight or crooked our teeth are, and that’s daily habits. Thumb sucking, mouth breathing, tongue thrusting, and even the simple action of resting your chin on your hand all contribute to shifting teeth.
Tongue thrusting, if you aren’t familiar, is the way babies swallow — pressing the tongue against the front teeth instead of the roof of the mouth. It’s perfectly normal for them, but we’re supposed to grow out of it. People who continue to tongue thrust after babyhood put a lot of pressure on their front teeth, causing them to shift. Special orthodontic appliances can help break the habit.
Our teeth come into contact with each other countless times over decades of chewing and talking, and this can wear away at the sides of each tooth where it touches its neighbors. Teeth end up taking up less space from side to side, and then they scoot closer together, gradually pushing towards the front. This is mesial drift, which happens to most of us as we age, whether or not we’ve had braces in the past!
No matter what’s causing problems with bite or crowding, orthodontic treatment is the solution. If you’re worried about your dental alignment or that of a family member, contact us to set up a consultation so that we can take a look. Having straight teeth isn’t just about appearances; it’s about having healthier teeth that can do their job properly!