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.

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

  1. Spencer says:

    I’ve had my braces off for about 3 yrs now and at first the orthodontist gave me a flimsy clear retainer that was more as a whitening tray because I put the polar gel in it, but I could bend it and twist and turn it. After I brought it up to my ortho he gave me a plastic clear retainer. The only problem is, my teeth had already shifted and my right tooth jets out, and the new retainer is in the shape of my mouth now with the right front tooth out more than the left one. My retainer isn’t moving my tooth back to how it was with braces, it’s barely fixing the problem. And also the retainer is supposed to be basically transparent so I can wear it 24/7 and people won’t notice, but there is a small gap between the bottom of my teeth and the bottom of the retainer, and my teeth don’t go down to the bottom of the retainer. Personally, I just want the normal wire retainer. Are those better than the clear ones, because the clear one just isn’t working on my teeth…. It’s been 3 years and I want my teeth straight again

    • Retainers don’t straighten teeth. They only “retain” or hold them. If your dentist or orthodontist led you to believe otherwise, you need to discuss it with them in person. The only way clear retainers can move teeth is if they are designed to do so like Invisalign aligners. That is a different story altogether.

  2. Kaylee says:

    I got my braces off in December, about 4 months ago, and my teeth were exactly how I wanted them. I wore my retainer every single night, and took really good care of my teeth. About a week ago, I had the flu and decided it would be best NOT to wear my retainer that night. I’ve continued to wear my retainer every night since, but yesterday I noticed 2 of my bottom teeth are turning inwards. These 2 teeth are really bugging me, and getting braces again isn’t an option. Why did I even get braces for my teeth to shift? I know one night of not wearing them did not change them, because they were fine when I wore my retainers the next day. I’m extremely frustrated because thousands of dollars for a few teeth to shift is not what I asked for. My retainers fit nicely, but sometimes they’re tight on the 2 specific teeth. Why are my teeth shifting? And are my other teeth going to shift too?

    • As you get older, EVERYTHING on your body will wrinkle and sag. Your retainers are the best thing we as a profession have to MINIMIZE the wrinkling and sagging of your teeth after treatment. You’ll need to adjust your expectations of how perfect your teeth can be, because there is no perfection. Good luck!

  3. Eliza Greenhill says:

    I recently gotmy braces off, about a week ago. Yesterday I went in and picked up my retainer. They gave me all the proper instructions of how to take care of it. I have been wearing it 24 hours, other than eating and cleaning my teeth. Several hours ago, I noticed it up a significant amount, about 1 centimeter. Does this mean I have to get braces again? Is it just part of the treatment?! HELP ME!!!!!

  4. Skylar says:

    Recently I got a filling that has caused my retainer to not fit properly and made one of my teeth slightly shift. I’m getting new retainers in 4 days and wondering would it be best to not wear my retainers until I get new ones? I’m afraid if I wear them that they’ll shift even more, but I’m also afraid that if I don’t they may shift anyway. I’ve had my braces off for about 1 year and 11 months, if that info helps any. Thank you!

    • I would return to your orthodontist and see if he can adjust your old retainer so that it will fit well enough to be used temporarily until your new retainer is ready to do. That is a better idea than just not wearing anything.

  5. Aina says:

    Recently I got my braces off, but the orthodontist gave me a permanent retainer only at behind my front teeth on the upper and bottom jaw. The thing that worries me is that she doesn’t gave me a removable retainer and I am scared if my other teeth that doesn’t have a retainer behind it might shifted quickly and also, I noticed that I’ve got my braces off (8 months after the first time I wore the braces), quicker than my friends!! At first, I thought it was too quick to get my braces off, but now I’m scared if the teeth might shifted quickly as I didn’t wear the removable retainers!! please reply, thank you so much!!

  6. Britney says:

    I got my braces off two weeks ago and before braces I had a gap between my two front teeth. I have been wearing my retainers only at night as instructed. When I take the retainer off my teeth are together. But after only a few minutes the space comes back. Is there any way to fix this problem permanently?

    • Yes, you need to ask your orthodontist to bond a retainer wire behind the teeth that keep spreading apart. It will complicate your flossing a bit, but it is the only way to stop the space from re-opening as you are describing.

  7. Jenni says:

    Hi! I don’t have a question, but more of a story of my experience for people reading through who might be having similar experiences. I had braces for 16 months to correct gaps in my teeth. After having them removed, my orthodontist instructed me to wear my clear plastic retainers all day for 2 weeks, which I did, and then just at night after that. I did exactly as he told me. After the two weeks, I wore them at night, then took them out. By noon the space in my two front top teeth was wide enough for me to fit my fingernail in between them. I contacted the orthodontist who had me come in. After looking at my teeth and checking to make sure it wasn’t due to my bite, he instructed me to wear them all day for another 4 weeks. He explained that sometimes it takes longer for teeth to “set” and resist going back to their original position so quickly. I’m on week 3 of wearing them all day again. I’m hoping after the 4 weeks and I start wearing them at night, they resist moving throughout the day. Also, I’m an adult (36), so I’m guessing that may have part to do with this.

    • I have not had much luck with getting recurring spaces to “set.” My recommendation is a bonded permanent retainer. That has been the best solution in my hands.

  8. kalpna singh says:

    The third upper left & right molar from backside is moving upward after wearing my retainer..my tooth are not aligned after removing brackets.. Some of lower tooth are gone irregular..My dentist ignore this changes..M soo upset..plz suggest me that what should I do now??

  9. Hannah says:

    Hello! I’m a 15 year old girl, about to turn sixteen, and have had my braces off for around 2 years now yet my teeth still move. The teeth that move are my two front teeth (I had a large overbite) and my tooth next to my right front tooth. That one moves quite dramatically and while I can’t see the movement I can feel it. The reason it moves so much is because it was originally up high on my gum and had to be brought down. I have worn my retainer (clear) consistently. For a couple of months after I got my braces off I wore my retainer day and night before my orthodontist told me I could wear it just at night, which I do now. But a couple of months ago my orthodontist said I could just wear it 3 nights a week but my teeth move way to much to seem like that is a good idea. I tried it the night after I was told to do it and my teeth moved so much that my mouth felt uncomfortable and when I put my retainer in the next night it hurt really badly. I have asked about the wire but haven’t really been answered. I just really want to know if there’s something I can do about the movement of my teeth, like get the wire if it will help, because soon I’ll probably be told to stop wearing the retainer completely. Thank you!

    • Everything on your body with wrinkle and sag as you age, including your teeth. Retainers are forever. The most controlling retainer would be a wire actually bonded on the back of your teeth. The downside is that it complicates your flossing. You should ask your orthodontist if you are a candidate for this type of retainer.

  10. Daphne says:

    Recently (about a month ago) I got my braces off, and my orthodontist said to wear my retainers all the time for 6 months and then only at night after but as I was really self conscious because I couldn’t talk in them properly I wore them all the time apart from at school, however I noticed that they had begun to move so I decided to wear my retainer all the time, they haven’t moved any further but they aren’t going back into the original position and I’m not sure what to do because my orthodontist scares me? no one else noticed the movement apart from me, but it’s really bugging me and I’m really worried that they’ll move more:(

    • Scared or not, you need to discuss this with your orthodontist. Your teeth may not move back with retainer wear alone and you really should be examined sooner than later.

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