• Dr. Tanner

The Secret Sauce of Tooth Movement

Updated: May 12



Orthodontic treatment can be magical.


On your first day in the orthodontic office, you or your child presents with a mouth full of crooked, overlapping teeth. After undergoing orthodontic treatment with Invisalign or braces for year or two, the teeth are transformed into a beautiful smile. How does this happen and is there a more comfortable way to accomplish this tooth magic?




The biology behind tooth movement.


First, without getting too stuck in the “science mud”, one must have a basic understanding of the biology behind tooth movement. Surprisingly, teeth, even though they appear to be static in the mouth, are in a constant state of flux. This occurs not only on a daily basis with chewing (teeth flexing in the sockets) but also throughout one’s lifetime: from early childhood with tooth eruption to late adulthood with dental arch changes. An important principle to remember is that teeth are programmed to respond to pressure and they will move if that pressure is maintained over a long enough period of time.


An important principle to remember is that teeth are programmed to respond to pressure and they will move if that pressure is maintained over a long enough period of time.




How do teeth move through the bones of our jaws?


It does not seem possible since bone appears to be so dense and teeth so firm in the mouth. The magic lies in the special ligament that surrounds the root. This encasing is called the periodontal ligament and it has properties to protect teeth from the forces of occlusion and external pressures. When we chew, we generate tremendous force. The periodontal ligament acts as a shock absorber and absorbs that stress. This is an intermittent force and does not result in a long-term change to the position of the tooth. However, if constant pressure is applied to the tooth, the periodontal ligament responds and begins to create modifications in the surrounding bone, which ultimately allows for the movement of the tooth.



The science of tooth movement.


Let’s dive in a little deeper into the science of tooth movement. When a tooth receives an orthodontic force, it shifts in position and the periodontal ligament in the tooth socket is compressed in some areas and stretched in others. The compression / tension of the periodontal ligament immediately changes blood flow, oxygen levels and triggers the release of chemical mediators. As a result, special cells (osteoclasts) jump into action to remove bone in front of the compression side and others cells (osteoblasts) lay down new bone on the tension side. And voila, the tooth begins to move! If the orthodontic forces are too great, some cell death occurs in the compression side and tooth movement is impeded (up to 7-14 days) due the need to recruit adjacent cells. Ideally, light force application triggers the biological response needed to move teeth without creating excessive inflammation and cell death.


This all occurs on the microscopic level.


There are key differences between moving teeth with braces vs aligners.


The personal experience.


What does a person experience during and after an orthodontic adjustment? If the patient is in braces, the wires are either adjusted or changed at their appointment. The patient walks out of the office feeling tightness in their teeth, which is then followed by soreness for the next 3 to 6 days. What is happening is that the teeth are receiving high force and the adjustment diminishes over several days until the tissues respond and heal. With Invisalign, the patient receives new aligners that are changed weekly. Each aligner imparts a low force load that stays fairly constant over the week allowing for light continuous forces to be exerted in a more uniform fashion. As a result, the degree of tooth discomfort is minimal with aligner changes and the teeth/supporting tissues do not experience as much pathological insult throughout treatment.



So, what is the secret sauce for efficient tooth movement?


Light continuous pressure over an extended period of time creates the magic. This combination results in the most effective and comfortable straightening of your teeth in the shortest time. And what is the best way to accomplish this? Invisalign, of course!



If you have questions about the benefits of Invisalign treatment, please call Visage Orthodontics at 505-670-6145 or visit our appointment page to schedule a complimentary consultation with me, Dr. Tanner, your Santa Fe Invisalign specialist. I will review everything in detail and develop a customized treatment plan to fit your lifestyle and budget.

A confident and beautiful smile is right around the corner!