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Contemporary theories of orthodontic tooth movement

From Volume 17, Issue 2, April 2024 | Pages 56-62


Jennifer Haworth


Academic post-CCST trainee in Orthodontics, Royal United Hospitals, Bath and University of Bristol

Articles by Jennifer Haworth

Email Jennifer Haworth

Jonathan Sandy


Professor of Orthodontics, School of Oral and Dental Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK

Articles by Jonathan Sandy


Coordinated biological responses are required to bring about orthodontic tooth movement. Several theories have been proposed for the mechanisms underlying tooth movement. Techniques have been investigated for reducing pain associated with orthodontics, as well as increasing the rate of tooth movement. Modern molecular and genetic techniques have improved our understanding of biological processes underlying tooth movement, but there is still a great deal of detail that is unknown.

CPD/Clinical Relevance: This article provides an update on contemporary theories of orthodontic tooth movement.


Teeth have been moved orthodontically in humans for centuries. The idea of bone resorption being the method by which teeth move through bone when an orthodontic force is applied was proved by Sandstedt in the early years of the 20th century, with the publication of a report of the histology of orthodontic tooth movement.1 Research continued throughout the 20th century using histological techniques, but also increasingly, molecular biology and molecular genetics. An important review of the mechanisms regulating orthodontic tooth movement was published by Meikle in 2006 when he stressed that a three-dimensional perspective is essential for understanding the biological events regarding tooth movement and that the process includes deflection of alveolar bone and concurrent remodelling of periodontal tissues.2

Orthodontists across the world rely on the biological processes underlying tooth movement through bone. Understanding that orthodontic tooth movement relies on coordinated responses within the bone and the periodontal ligament of teeth is important for clinical care and also has implications for development of new techniques.

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