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 months 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 these changes would be noticeable.

To keep the amount of movement up front 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 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.

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 if 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 you should expect that 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 will 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 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 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. Because he has over 25,000 readers each month, it is impossible for him respond to all questions. 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.

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

  1. Denise says:

    I wore my retainers for two full months as advised by my orthodontist after having my braces removed. On my first day of not having to wear my retainers full time, I noticed a gap formed between my lower center teeth. So I continued wearing the retainers full time. It has been three additional weeks, and the teeth still move to form the gap. Also, my retainer feels tight on my upper teeth when I put it on after having had it off for a few hours. Is the retainer supposed to feel tight every night when put on? What can be done to keep my lower teeth from forming the gap?

    • I would recommend returning to your orthodontist with your retainers ASAP and let him see what is going on. By three weeks your teeth should be more stable than that. You may need your current retainers adjusted or replaced.

  2. Cally says:

    Hi, I had braces removed around 4 years ago now, they weren’t on for very long -just over a year if that. I wore my retainer religiously and even had to purchase a new one within the first year of them being off. However now my teeth have started to move so much, after my retainer has been off less than an hour I can feel that they have shifted, and eating things like apples us even worse. I went back to see my orthodontist and was quoted 800 to fix it with removal of the enamel. Is this right, should I be charged despite the fact I’ve done everything I should have following treatment? Many thanks

    • Some degree of movement 4 years after braces is to be expected, but I am unable to comment on the proposed treatment plan and associated fees. If you have any doubts, get a second opinion.

  3. Kara says:

    I had adult braces for 2 years 8 years ago. I have faithfully worn the retainers and kept up with visits. My bottom teeth started moving last year so my orthodontist had me get invisalign. My top teeth have narrowed too but he says they are in the same place. He fitted me for a firmer top retainer to wear at night but I can see the teeth are not in a wide smile like they were. I think he doesn’t want it fixed because at times I was slow paying off my bills. I feel like it is class discrimination, do I not deserve to have the teeth where they were after paying all up around $8k? It is all paid off but he just wants me to accept where my teeth want to move to. Should I see another orthodontist?

    • I can’t give an opinion on the financial aspects of your case nor the “discrimination.” I do believe that most of my colleagues in the orthodontist field are doing the best they can for their patients. Please give him the benefit of the doubt and return to discuss your concerns. If he won’t be reasonable in your mind, you should get a second opinion.

  4. Alexis Cunningham says:

    Hello, I just got my braces off in July. I wear my retainers every day like I’m supposed to. I noticed when I got my first bottom retainer that my teeth began to move and now they are overlapping each other once again. As I said before, I wear my retainer every single day for22 hours. I brush my teeth regularly too like needed. I went back to my orthodontist and they have had to make four retainers and my teeth still have been moving. What can I possibly do to stop this ?

    • There is nothing you can do to stop the movement of teeth following treatment except wearing retainers. If one type of retainer is not working for you, ask your orthodontist to try a different one.

  5. Sonya says:

    I had braces years ago and stopped wearing my retainers. I started wearing my top one over night and found that my top teeth go back to being perfectly straight after wearing the retainer over night. As soon as I take it off, they start to move again. Is a top permanent retainer an option? My bottom teeth are far too crooked now and the retainer doesnt fit anymore. But i would like to keep my top teeth straight. Can i request a permanent retainer?

    • A permanent retainer may be an option for you. Please discuss it with the orthodontist that provided your treatment as he knows exactly where your teeth were before treatment and where they will tend to move in the future.

  6. Nicole says:

    I just started wearing a permanent retainer but my dentist told me to still wear my removable retainers. I told her that it feels tight and it does not feel right. When I take off my removable retainers in the morning it looks like my teeth has shifted but when I take pictures of it you could hardly see the difference. I do feel like it is causing too much pressure to my top front teeth where she placed the permanent retainers. I dont think I should still wear the removable retainers if she has placed a permanent one already. Can you please help me?

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