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.

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

  1. Autumn smithey portilla says:

    Hi, my name is Autumn and I wore the Damon system style of braces for alost 4 years because my teeth were really bad and way over crowded however with the Damon system I didn’t have to have any teeth pulled being the braces pulled my teeth apart and then brought them back in and into alignment. I really liked the style of the braces too, the wire clipping in through popping each bracket open and closed to allow a more natural shifting of the teeth into a perfect alignment. Well I had my braces taken off 3 years ago and had a permanent retainer bonded to the back of my bottom teeth and removable wire retainer to wear at night on my top teeth. The issue is over the past 6 months I have noticed my front teeth becoming loose for a few days and then strengthing back up, but each time they would get a little looser and looser. My bottom wisdom teeth broke through my gums 3 weeks ago, also I have terrible oral habit of my tongue pressing against my front bottom teeth when swallowing as well as in a relaxed state, and I have a bad habit of pressing and rubbing my tongue against the back of the teeth over the wire for some reason. Tonight my tooth got so wobbly tha it has completely detached to the gum, the only thing holding it in the socket still and not falling out is the permanent retainer bonding my bottI’m teeth together. I called a local dentist that is trained in oral surgery as well in September and scheduled an appt with them because I realized then this was becoming a serious issue, the problem is they couldn’t get me in until middle of January. I cannoT call any other local dentist because none of them specialize in oral surgery as well. I’m scared that this tooth is gonna end up being permanent gone if I wait, can I call my orthodontist over this issue, or am I gonna be looking at ending up getting an implant? I hear implants can cost up to $5,000 per tooth and that’s with my insurance, i can’t afford that up front nor can I handle being seen at work with my front tooth missing…. please help me, what do I do???

    • You are correct in consulting with an oral surgeon regarding your wisdom teeth. For the loose teeth however, I would recommend that you see a periodontist. A periodontist is a dental specialist trained in diagnosing and treating problems with the gums and bone around the teeth. That seems to be where your problems are.

  2. jenny parkinsons says:

    i wore my retainers for 6 months and thought that the treatment was over so i stopped wearing them.now, my front teeth have a very small gap and my bottom teeth are SLIGHTLY crowded. i cannot find my top retainers and i’ve looked everywhere. i was wondering if there was anything that my orthodontist can do for FREE.(i currently live in london-free healthcare).However,i know that i cannot get braces again.WHHAT SHOULD I DO?IT IS TOO EXPENSIVE TO GET BRACES OR RETAINERS.

    • I’m sorry that I can’t give you a “quick fix” answer. If you want your teeth perfect again, you’ll need additional treatment (either with braces or aligners). If you just want to prevent further treatment, you should just get a retainer. I can’t comment on how much this will cost in London

  3. Alex Summers says:

    So last febuary I got my braces removed after 5 years, I was told i have to wear my retainers until november and my teeth would be fine. After that I only needed to wear them nightly, but i noticed that my teeth moved and its starting to hurt me. What are mt options? i can’t afford to get braces again and/or get surgery.

  4. S says:

    I have a very tiny chip on the bottom of my front tooth and the first time we fixed it it came out the next day. I want to try again after my hopefully last set of braces but now that I have finally gotten my braces off and retainer sized to my chipped tooth (which I can see a little on my retainer which worries me) will the filling get knocked off when I put the retainer in? It’s obviously in a bad place but since it’s so tiny can fall off semi easy so if my retainer on that area won’t fit I don’t want to chance putting it in. I asked my orthodontist at a very quick checkup and he was really busy and running through patients and mine was a quick one so he buzzed through me without answering my question. He said he could resize it but then offered to shave down my teeth he tries doing it a little to my chip to make it less noticeable I don’t want that. But still I just want to know at the dentist if I bring in the retainer with the chip and we fix my chip and the retainer won’t fit what do I do without a retainer while I wait for my appointment to get a new one? My teeth with shift for sure! I just get so worried because I had perminate (obviously I’m on clear now because of it) retainers fail on me for one fell off but it was plastic I couldn’t see it and the other just wasn’t working so I needed braces again so I don’t want that to happen again in different situation setting me up with slightly crooked teeth again! Should I just call for a retainer resize before the chip filling?

    • The best option would be to make two appointments on the same day, one at the dentist and the other at the orthodontist. Have your chip fixed and then head over to the orthodontist for a retainer impression. They should be able to make a new retainer within 24 hours and your teeth won’t move far at all in that time period. Good luck!

      • Ella Murphy says:

        Hi. So I got my braces off last September and I’ve worn my retainer daily as instructed and then they told me I only have to wear at night now. I’m 14 and I’ve been growing lately. Now I’ve noticed that I have a sharp pain the the joint of my left jaw. Whenever I move it or put pressure on it, it hurts really bad. Now I woke up this morning and my jaw hurts even more but I feel like the bottom front row of my teeth have moved forward a little bit and some other teeth have moved as well even though I was wearing my retainer all night. What do you think is happening and what should I do? Thanks.

        • There will always be some movement of the teeth as we age, especially in growing patients. Retainers can only limit that movement. As for the jaw pain, that is not related to your retainers at all. I would see a dentist or oral surgeon about that.

  5. sos says:

    so I’m nearly done my braces treatment but theres this space between my top two teeth near the side that wont close. every time the orthodontist tries closing it, it opens up again. its not that big but still a space. Now he’s saying we’re going to leave it that way and take the braces off. wont all my teeth start shifting if i take my braces off with that space still there?

    • The key to keeping your teeth straight after braces are off is wearing the retainer as prescribed. I can’t tell you why you keep getting a space, but no matter what, retainer wear is essential for preserving the correction you have achieved.

  6. Daniela Sofia says:

    I took my braces 4 days ago and I am wearing a retainer 24h per day (I only take it out to eat). Yesterday, I realised one of my front teeth is moving back to the place it used to be before I got braces… :C I can not see it but I can feel it with my finger that it is moving… I am doing everything super righ, I do not “eat with my front teeth”, because I know it can move them, I ALWAYS wear my retainer but it is moving 🙁 What should I do?! Is my retainer too loose or something?

    • A small amount of movement of the teeth after the braces come off is normal and unavoidable. The best we can do is minimize this with retainers. You can discuss it with your orthodontist, but please remember that when you are dealing with the human body, there is no “perfect”

  7. Meghan White says:

    I just got my braces off two days ago and my top retainer is feeling a tiny bit loose at the back near the roof of my mouth. I’m not sure if that’s normal and I’m worried that my teeth are going to start moving again

  8. Cristina Afanasii says:

    I just got my top retainer, the doctor adjusted it to my teeth but after the first night with the both of wire retainers my up teeths layed a bit like in a oblic position, is it the doctor’s fault? Or should i go back and ask him to readjust it? I cant understand why it’s happening.

    • Retainers sometimes need to be adjusted a few times to get them to fit your teeth exactly right. If yours are not fitting well, return to your orthodontist and have them adjusted so they do. This is common and not a problem.

  9. Natalia says:

    I got my braces off and my teeth haven’t shifted. I am wondering if movement does occur is it more likely it will be vertical or horizontal. We extruded a tooth too much then had to re intrude it, and it was minimally filed. Is it possible it will move vertically and the heights will be different? I have a fixed retainer and will have a tray retainer soon.

    • Tooth movement after treatment happens in all directions. Relapse tends to happen in the reverse direction as the correction that took place during treatment. Teeth that were extruded tend to intrude and those that were intruded do the opposite. Spaces that were opened tend to close and crowding that was resolved tends to crowd again. The best remedy to minimize these movements are orthodontic retainers. Nothing will prevent all movement, but retainers are the best we have to minimize it.

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