Crowded teeth: causes and how to fix them

Do you know how crowded teeth develop? Learn more about dental overcrowding and the modern options an experienced dentist can use to fix them. 

What are crowded teeth?

"Crowded teeth" is a term often used to describe the situation when your mouth appears not to have enough room for all of your teeth. Also known as overcrowding or dental crowding, the development of crowded teeth may have a number of causes. This dental condition tends to occur when growing teeth, especially crowded bottom teeth, cannot find proper space to develop. As a result of growing in too small a space, these teeth grow unnaturally – sometimes as crooked teeth and sometimes as slanted or twisted teeth that actually overlap one another.

This type of dental misalignment is very common. From a technical point of view, your dentist will probably classify any overcrowding present as mild, moderate or severe crowding. This description is generally helpful because it makes it easier to decide upon the kind of dental treatments (if any) which might be used to correct the situation. Here are the three different classifications in more detail:

  • Mild crowding: this occurs in the upper or lower jaw when one of your anterior teeth (front teeth) is found to be slightly twisted.

  • Moderate crowding: with moderate crowding in the upper or lower jaw areas, two or three anterior teeth will each have grown to overlap another tooth.

  • Severe crowding: with the severest form of dental overcrowding in the upper or lower jaw region, most of the anterior teeth will be showing some signs of overlapping.

It should also be said that very minor cases of mild crowding may not affect an individual at all, which means there would be no need for treatment. So to some extent, at least, the issue of mildly overcrowded teeth is a personal matter on which it is best to seek advice from an experienced dentist before making any firm decisions. 

What causes crowded teeth?

Several factors could potentially be the cause of crowded teeth – in particular, the age of the individual. In general, more severe dental crowding tends to be more of an adult condition and less common in children. That's because overcrowded teeth that are neglected and that don't receive dental treatment, will most likely worsen over time.

With that in mind, any child showing early signs of dental overcrowding should still be examined by a qualified dentist. Here are some of the main causes of crowded teeth

  • Family dental history: dental overcrowding can be inherited from your immediate ancestors. So, if your close family (e.g. a parent or grandparent) has suffered from crowded teeth, then you will likely be at a greater risk of experiencing the same condition. 

  • Dental injuries: Any facial injury causing some damage to your mouth has the potential to cause a dental problem. So, any forceful impact might shift or twist your teeth out of proper alignment, especially if the dental injury goes unnoticed or is left untreated. 

  • Thumb sucking: Childhood thumb sucking can eventually cause dental overcrowding. If the habit continues beyond the early years, a child’s baby teeth may shift out of position and cause dental misalignment. In addition, though later natural growth may correct some of the initial shift, a child’s jaw is small. So, the ‘reset’ itself may eventually create some further twisting. 

  • Retention of baby teeth: Baby teeth can sometimes appear to get looser but then go on to grow tighter in the gum. This, in turn, can prevent permanent teeth from  emerging properly. Such 'over-retained' baby teeth need to be removed to avoid any later risk of dental overcrowding.

  • Premature tooth loss: Should you lose one of your permanent teeth at an early stage, it’s always possible that an adjacent tooth may attempt to grow into the vacant space. This can produce new misalignments, which may then result in ‘local’ overcrowding.

  • Oversized teeth: Some individuals grow teeth that are too large. As a result, their dental arch (the bony structure which supports and houses your set of teeth) cannot properly accommodate all their teeth in the space available. What generally happens is that some teeth will then overlap, or even continue to grow behind or in front of others.

  • Jaw dimensions: The human jaw has evolved to become a structure that must be of a particular size and shape if it is to house a full set of teeth safely. As you might expect, anyone born with an undersized jaw will therefore be at a greater risk of experiencing dental overcrowding of varying severity.

  • Extra teeth (hyperdontia): Everyone should have the same amount of teeth fitting into each jaw. Nevertheless, in some instances, people do develop extra teeth. Hyperdontia is the term dentists use to describe the growth of additional teeth. Such teeth commonly emerge very close to those areas of your gums where your teeth connect with your jawbone. 

  • Age factors: As we age, the lower jaw, in particular, can tend to shrink in size. This natural process can then cause teeth to begin shifting forward in your mouth. The result of this can be crowded bottom teeth which may often need some form of corrective treatment. 

  • Orthodontic interventions: Another time when teeth may be prone to shift position is following some forms of orthodontic treatment. Though the procedure itself (perhaps the fitting of a dental brace) may have been designed to reposition your teeth, it is usually when wearing dental retainers  for a recommended period of time that encourages your teeth to remain and grow firmly in their ‘new’ positions.

Can wisdom teeth cause crowding?

It can seem quite logical to ask whether wisdom teeth cause crowding. After all, they are our largest and most powerful teeth. Furthermore, many adults will have experienced the dental pain of an ‘impacted’ wisdom tooth stuck beneath the gums and trying to force its way through. This has led many people to reason that such forceful activity might suggest wisdom teeth are somehow responsible for shifting other teeth and therefore causing dental overcrowding. 

The truth is, however persuasive such suggestions might appear, there are no reliable research studies that support the claim that wisdom teeth cause dental crowding. So, it is safe to say that the behaviour of your wisdom teeth is most unlikely to be powerful enough to be responsible for the misalignment or crowding of your front teeth. 

What happens if you have crowded teeth? 

If you have crowded teeth, the consequences initially depend on whether or not your dentist recommends that you need dental treatment. If treatment is proposed and an individual still decides not to proceed, then crowded teeth can cause some continuing problems for your future dental health and maybe even for your overall health. Here are some examples of what might occur: 

  • Dental hygiene issues: when your teeth overlap, it becomes more difficult to keep your teeth, gums, and mouth healthy. This is because any lack of thorough cleaning can quickly lead to a build-up of dental plaque and bacteria. In turn, this situation creates ideal conditions for the development of more serious dental problems.

  • Dental caries and cavities: dental caries, also called tooth decay, occurs when bacteria begin to break down your tooth enamel. This activity can eventually result in tiny holes in your teeth, known as cavities. 

  • Gum/periodontal disease: these conditions will begin to damage not only the soft tissue of your gums but also the underlying bone structure of your jaw which supports your teeth.

  • Biting and chewing problems: because crowded teeth are one form of malocclusion (misalignment of teeth), sufferers may also experience eating difficulties. Such problems can occur if the teeth in your upper and lower jaw do not align properly. So, biting and chewing may be painful at times. 

  • TMD (temporomandibular joint dysfunction): TMD is a condition in which misaligned teeth grind together. Over time, this can cause tooth wear and more serious jaw problems such as inflammation of the joint which connects your jawbone to the rest of your skull. 

  • Low self-esteem: for some, the disfigurement of dental overcrowding can be the cause of extreme embarrassment, affect your self-esteem, and perhaps even cause social withdrawal. 

Can dental crowding cause pain?

Yes, dental crowding can cause some types of pain. Dental overcrowding may result in pain centred in and around your teeth, gums and jaws. In some cases, you may even experience headaches and pain sensations extending down as far as your neck and shoulders. 

The main reasons for this pain are:

  • Excess pressure: this can be the direct result of teeth crowding together, which may cause toothaches and pain. And likewise, a misaligned bite can cause further pain in your teeth, gums and jaws when eating food.

  • Worn down teeth: dental overcrowding and misalignment create abnormal patterns of wear and tear. These damaged teeth often cause pain and tissue damage to the softer areas of your mouth, such as your inner cheeks, gums, and lips. There is a further risk of teeth fractures which could extend the pain as far as your neck and jaw.

  • Infections and tooth decay: these are generally accompanied by various kinds of tooth and jaw pain.

  • Muscular fatigue: this can be another symptom of crowding and misalignment and occurs because your jaw muscles have to strain far more. This, in turn, can cause headaches and pain, with the muscular aches and pains sometimes located in your shoulders and back, far away from the original source of the problem.

How do you treat crowded teeth? 

This is something that needs the opinion of a qualified and experienced dentist. Before discussing and deciding upon any possible treatment plans, all reputable sources of dental treatment will expect to see a diagnosis confirming the issues present. That’s why PlusDent UK, for example, offers a free 3D scan at the start of their consultation process.

As explained above, the degree of overcrowding is usually described as mild, moderate or severe. The other important factor to consider is the age of the patient: children’s teeth and bones are still developing, whilst adults have permanent teeth and a well-established bone structure. 

Mild and moderate dental overcrowding can usually be addressed by using braces or veneers, while severe cases may require some extractions and other treatments from orthodontic specialists. Treating children's crowded teeth requires special care, but treating crowded teeth in the lower jaw in adults is a common procedure generally achieved with braces. 

Dental braces come in a variety of designs and materials and are used in teeth straightening to treat many misalignments such as tooth gaps, crooked teeth and crowded teeth. Traditional metal braces are still used, but modern options now include clear braces which are less obtrusive to wear, lingual braces which are mostly hidden behind the teeth, and the latest (and most popular) clear invisible aligners, which will remain virtually invisible to others.

At PlusDent UK, your individual treatment plan will include a 3D model based on your free scan. This will show the present condition of your teeth plus the planned dental shifting required to produce the results you want to achieve. 

How long does it take to fix crowded teeth?

This depends on the original condition of your teeth and what treatment option was recommended in your treatment plan. Broadly speaking, a mild or moderate treatment of crowded teeth could take around 6 to 18 months. However, using metal braces to treat the same condition might take around 18 to 24 months.

How do invisible braces work on crowded teeth? 

Invisible braces, or aligners, work on crowded teeth by gradually aligning the teeth. This process works in phases. Each step is designed to increase the amount of shifting until your aligners have moved your teeth the required distance, so they finally have enough space to continue to grow normally. To achieve this, your aligners are monitored, adjusted and replaced regularly throughout your treatment

Each stage of your treatment is carefully monitored. At PlusDent UK, for example, you are in good hands because the dentist can perform online check-ups and can monitor your treatment progress every step of the way.

Once you've achieved the predicted results from the treatment, your dentist will explain the need to wear a retainer for a period of time. This will ensure your teeth stay in their new position to maintain that beautiful new smile of yours.

Can veneers fix crowded teeth?

Whether or not veneers can fix crowded teeth depends on the circumstances. Veneers are thin, carefully crafted shells made from a tooth-coloured material. For adults with moderate dental overcrowding, they can be fixed to the front of crowded teeth to cosmetically improve the look of your smile by mimicking the size, shape and colour of the surrounding teeth. 

Though this process produces quicker visual results, it is a more costly option than using braces or clear aligners to straighten teeth. Yet on the plus side, fitting veneers can usually be achieved with fewer visits to your dentist.