We see a large number of patients who complain that their teeth are crooked and they want to have  better smiles.  Naturally they come to see an orthodontist such as myself to help correct this issue, and when they visit they often ask “so why are my teeth crooked in the first place?  What caused this to happen?  Is it genetic?”
While it’s true that genetics do play a role in the development of your teeth and if your parents had an overbite or an underbite you might very well inherit the same trait, genetics are certainly not the only contributing factor.  Some bad habits such as clenching your teeth (stress) or tooth grinding or even thumb sucking in small children can lead to tooth alignment issues.  Here are some examples:

When a child sucks their thumb: 

This tends to make the top jaw narrow and even push out the top front teeth causing them to stick out (often referred to as buck teeth).
When a child pushes their tongue against their front teeth: Referred to as tongue thrusting, this can cause pressures behind the teeth which ultimately can lead to pushing the them forward causing them to stick out.  A similar issue can arise from extended pacifier use in very small children , if not caught in time and corrected this can certainly lead to undo pressures on the jaw leading to tooth problems.

Knocked out teeth: 

Accidental tooth loss in children as may occur while playing sports, can easily lead to crooked teeth if the underlying adult teeth fail to come in properly.  This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to be seen by your dentist regularly so they can catch these things early enough to correct them and if an Orthodontist is needed, they will refer you to the office so a custom plan can be devised for you or your child.

Not flossing:

In adults, something as simple as not properly flossing can cause teeth to become crooked over time!  When deposits harden on your teeth (known as tarter buildup) this has the effect of pushing the gums away from the teeth which would be otherwise closely in contact with the teeth.  Over time, this can loosen the teeth and cause shifting.  That’s another reason why you absolutely should be regularly seen by a dentist.  Bone loss beneath the gumline (which is a serious issue) greatly contributes to this same problem because the teeth simply have less material holding them in place and they become loose and then eventually will shift.  In this case, an adult patient is likely looking at an underlying Periodontal issue and should be assessed immediately.

In summary, Prevention is key!

All these examples point to prevention being one of your biggest assets when maintaining a healthy smile.  There are daily steps you can take to ensure you have the best chances of avoiding crooked teeth.  Here’s a brief guideline that you can follow, but remember, you may just be in that camp of people that has underlying genetic predisposition to certain alignment issues that really require the assistance of an orthodontist to properly correct.

Steps to take to help reduce the risk of crooked teeth

  1. See your dentist or independent dental hygienist for regularly scheduled cleanings  and checkups.  Knowing, really is half the battle!
  2. Make sure you are flossing!  If you have children, instil in them this critically important oral care habit.  Learning it early can help save them much grief later in life.
  3. Invest in a mouthguard, for you and your child while playing sports!
  4. See the orthodontist by age 8 for a consultation in case any preventive work is needed.  Remember, catching potential issues early can help save you both time and money down the road.