Dr. Greg Jorgensen
(505) 891-9440
1401 Barbara Loop SE
Rio Rancho, NM 87124

The Jorgensen Orthodontics Blog

Help, I’m wearing my orthodontic retainer, but my teeth are moving!

Posted by Dr. Jorgensen on February 24th, 2011

iStock_000010219097XSmallThe most exciting day for an orthodontic patient is the day that their braces come off. Getting a smile that is as close to ideal as possible can be a long and involved process, and everyone, including the orthodontist, wants that smile to last the rest of the patient’s lifetime. But is that realistic?

Believe it or not, although the teeth may look great on the day the braces are removed, they will look better and be healthier a few weeks after the braces have come off. One reason for this is that the gum tissues, which suffer during treatment because brushing and flossing are so much more difficult, will actually get healthier after the braces are gone. A second reason is that with the wires and brackets off, the teeth can “settle” and come together more evenly and naturally. This settling is desirable on the side and back teeth, but not up front where changes would be noticeable.

To keep the amount of movement to a minimum, all patients in our practice are given retainers the day their braces come off. As we’ve discussed in previous articles, there are many styles of orthodontic retainers, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. They all have one thing in common however. None of them can prevent all changes that occur as the mouth ages. Just as our eyesight, our hairline, and our figure changes with age, so do our teeth. There is nothing on the body that does not sag and wrinkle with age.

Changes in the alignment of your teeth will occur for a variety of reasons. First, if you are still growing, your genetic instructions (DNA) were not changed by our treatment and they still influence how you’ll “turn out.” Second, oral habits (where you rest your tongue or how you clench your teeth) will continue to put forces on the teeth that may cause them to move. And third, the normal wear that occurs when you use your teeth will require that your teeth adjust their positions so they can still come together. For these reasons the positions of your teeth will continue to change after your braces come off.

So what is the take-home message? If you want to keep the natural changes that occur to a minimum, wear your retainers daily as prescribed for as long as you want your teeth to stay straight. You need to accept some natural change, but there is no reason why your teeth can’t continue looking awesome for the rest of your life!

NOTE: The author, Dr. Greg Jorgensen, is a board-certified orthodontist who is in the private practice of orthodontics in Rio Rancho, New Mexico (a suburb on the Westside of Albuquerque). He was trained at BYU, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Iowa in the United States. Dr. Jorgensen’s 25 years of specialty practice and nearly 10,000 finished cases qualify him an expert in two-phase treatment, extraction and non-extraction therapy, functional orthodontics, clear aligners (Invisalign), and multiple bracket systems (including conventional braces, Damon and other self-ligating brackets, Suresmile, and lingual braces). This blog is for informational purposes only and is designed to help consumers understand currently accepted orthodontic concepts. It is not a venue for debating alternative treatment theories. Dr. Jorgensen is licensed to diagnose and treat patients only in the state of New Mexico. He cannot diagnose cases described in comments nor can he select treatment plans for readers. Please understand that because he has tens of thousands of readers each month, IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR HIM TO RESPOND TO EVERY QUESTION. Please read all of the comments associated with each article as most of the questions he receives each week have been asked and answered previously. The opinions expressed here are protected by copyright laws and can only be used with written permission from the author.

813 comments so far in response to “Help, I’m wearing my orthodontic retainer, but my teeth are moving!”

  1. Lexi says:

    Hi so got a quick question. So I’m wearing my plastic retainers and I wear them every night sometimes I forget but once in a blue moon. And my bottom and top retainers fit but are tight and the top one is loose but still fits. So I noticed when I floss it’s very loose almost feels like my teeth a shifting I think. What should I do? Go get them fixed my retainers and how much to fix them?

    • I can’t quote a fee for a new retainer, but they do stretch and “relax” over time. I would recommend that you consult with a local doctor about getting a replacement retainer.

  2. Madison says:

    I’ve had my braces off for a year. Through out the whole year I’ve maybe not worn them for 2 months. One month was because they were lost and the second one was when I was sick and busy so I forgot I feel super guilty now because my ortho said they moved (not noticeable) because my top ones had a gap so their making us pay $150 to get completely new top ones. I need a way to not forget because I feel really bad because I didn’t even know they shifted..

  3. Lexy says:

    I got my braces off about 5 months ago i’ve been wearing my retainer for the right amount of time. the retainer fits very well, but i look back at pictures from when i first got my braces off and my teeth look much straighter. they are not crooked, however they are pushing outwards a lot more than in the pictures. i went for an appointment last month to check up on them and they said nothing about it, what should i do?

    • There is going to be some relaxation or “settling” of the teeth after your braces are removed. Retainers are the best way we have to minimize adverse tooth movements, so you’ve already got what you need. I would encourage you to discuss what you’re seeing with the orthodontist who treated you just so he’s aware of your concerns.

  4. Danielle says:

    I’m not sure that my retainer fits properly. It feels like I am biting the retainer on my left side at the molar, almost like the edge comes over onto the biting surface of my tooth a little. Is this normal or an indication that the impression on that side was not made correctly? I would say the retainer fits, but not ideal like my other one did because I didn’t have this problem with it. If this is not normal, will the retainer still be effective?

    • Depending upon the type of retainer, you probably shouldn’t feel something different on one side and not the other. Most can be adjusted. Please return to the orthodontist that provided your retainer for evaluation.

  5. Chila says:


    I finished Invisalign treatment and was given a set of 10 clear invisalignn aligners to be used as retainers…my concern is, how are these regular flimsy aligners supposed to last and keep my teeth in place forever? Also, I had a posterior cross-bite on one side, and my teeth still haven’t “settled” into position fully on that one side…how will these clear plastic retainers allow for this to happen? Even if my teeth move into a better position during the day, wouldn’t they be pushed back at night, due to the retisners?

    • You raise some good points. The material used to make the active aligners you used to straighten your teeth was not designed to make permanent retainers. It is too flimsy and it will not last. I would return to your orthodontist and discuss permanent retainers. I’m not a fan of upper and lower full-coverage retainers of any kind because they do not allow natural settling as you describe. Good luck!

  6. Chloe says:

    I got my braces off a year ago, I went a few weeks recently not wearing my retainer (clear removable) and have began wearing it again. It has began pulling my front 6 teeth forward at a slant creating gaps if this makes sense. Spoke to my orthodontist who was very unhelpful. He said he could make a new retainer for how my teeth are just now but I’m unhappy with how my teeth are now. Help!?

    • This is why retainers are important and must be worn “forever.” If you are unhappy with your teeth, you will need to have additional treatment either with your former orthodontist or a new one. Just getting a new retainer will only maintain the current alignment of your teeth, not improve them.

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