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PHYSIOLOGIC MESIAL DRIFT

February 9th, 2012

Sounds complicated, right?  Well, while we don’t know exactly how it works, we do know what it is and why it happens.  Simply, it’s the tendency of teeth to move towards the front of the dental arch throughout your life.
Since teeth are arranged in an arch, we cannot use terms like front and side to describe surfaces.  Instead, we use terms like distal (towards the back of the arch) and mesial (towards the front or midline of the arch).  So, throughout our lives, teeth naturally drift towards the midline at the front of the arch, often leading to crowding at the front of the mouth.
Why does this happen?  Well if you study primitive cultures, you’ll find that teeth are commonly used as tools.  They soften leathers, sharpen objects, chew coarse diets, and generally put them through a very tough workout.  The teeth wear down from this use and as time goes on, they wear beyond the widest part, effectively narrowing each tooth.  As spaces open between teeth, they are diminished by mesial drift.  Everything moves mesially, opening more space at the back of the arch and, at about age 18, the 3rd molars, also known as wisdom teeth, have room to erupt.  This provides new biting surfaces to make up for all the lost tooth structure and, at age 40 or so, they die and never need braces to straighten crowded front teeth.
Since we no longer chew a raw diet or use our teeth routinely as tools, the wear doesn’t happen bu the drift continues, leading to teeth overlapping and moving out of the arch.  For the health of the teeth and the gums, it’s often necessary to correct this crowding.  Ask your dentist if you have concerns about crowding.
There are many ways to correct crowding.  The techniques run the gamut of complete braces to simple mouthguards that you just wear at night.  The decision depends upon what needs to be corrected.  Is it just esthetics or are there bite considerations?  Is periodontal disease a consideration?  Your total dental condition needs to be addressed before making final treatment decisions.

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