Dr. Greg Jorgensen
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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.

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

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Hello, I had braces from 2009-2013 and got a Hawley retainer that I’ve worn nearly every night since. Also, I have a permanent retainer on my bottom teeth. On my upper front teeth, some of the teeth have slightly shifted. It might not be very noticeable to others, but it is noticeable to me and has been bothering me a lot lately. What should I do? Thanks

    • There are several options for minor changes following orthodontic treatment (understanding that such changes are normal). First, a new retainer may be all you need. Second, some clear aligners may be able to reposition the teeth closer to where they were following active treatment. Lastly, you may need a short “tune up” with fixed braces is you want “perfection” again.

  2. safa says:

    So i have a permanent retainer behind my two front teeth. i feel like they are separating just a little bit. and when i wear my retainers they seem to separate a lot and when i don’t they get closer together. what should i do?

    • It sounds like you need to have your orthodontist evaluate the style, condition, and adjustment of your retainers. It doesn’t sound like the retainers are performing as they are supposed to.

  3. jenna p says:

    I had my braces taken off about 2 years ago and have been wearing clear retainers since. Ive always had buckteeth, but that was corrected. Now though, Within a few hours of not wearing my top retainer though, my buckteeth reappear and after two days I struggle to put the retainer back on and the two teeth come back together. Ive accepted that this will happen, probably always, but will the constant moving of my teeth make them weaker or do any damage? It cant be good for teeth to move so much daily? Thank you

    • I think you should be re-evaluated and possibly invest in a new retainer. You shouldn’t feel this much movement at this point and the recurring movement caused by these retainers is not a good thing.

  4. Caryn says:

    I have now had my braces off for twelve years and have been wearing an Essix retainer nightly for that entire period. My teeth still shift a lot during the day making my retainer tight when I put it in at night, and if I miss a night they shift so much the gap between my front teeth becomes visible.
    Also, when I wear the Essix I feel like my teeth move around because if I bite down on one side of the retainer, I can feel pressure on the other side of my mouth. I know the retainer is supposed to keep all of my teeth in line with one another but I think the Essix may be causing my teeth to remain loose and therefore shift even more when I don’t have it on.

    I am wondering if my teeth would respond better to a wire retainer. My teeth should not be that mobile so long after having my braces off, right?

    • Here are some thoughts that come to my mind. First, the only way to keep a space from reopening is to bond a permanent retainer. Second, your teeth have changed a lot in 12 years whether you know it or not. A new retainer would be a good idea. Lastly, Get the space closed and the bonded retainer in place and then DON’T wear your retainer for a week (to let the teeth “relax”). Then get the impression taken for your new retainer when the teeth are in their relaxed position.

  5. Travis says:


    I’ve had my braces off for a few months now and probably not wearing my retainers enough (only at bedtime). My teeth still fit in the retainers all the way down, but there appears to be small grooves in the front of the top retainer about 4/5ths the way down for my four front teeth. I also notice that I have a sizable overjet again (I’m assuming it was corrected with the braces, I’m bad for not remembering) and may be wary that some tongue thrusting may be causing issues even with the retainers fitting…what should I do? I don’t want to have to wear braces again!

    • Anytime you have questions about movements occurring after your braces are removed, you should return to your own orthodontist ASAP (before things get any worse). Some change after treatment is unavoidable, but you should discuss your concerns with your doctor as soon as you have them because they will not get better on their own. Does anything really get better if you just ignore it?

  6. Lilly says:

    um hello, I just got my braces off on Monday (April 20th 2015) after a year and half and I got my retainers about 3 days later and when they first put them on they felt a little tight but the next morning I woke up and my bottom retainer had I guess fallen? out of my mouth, I found it and put it back in my mouth but it seems to now not fit properly in the front of my mouth. it’s didn’t seemed to be damaged when I picked it up.. but I’m just wondering if what I should do? thank you

    • I would try and wear it full time for a couple of days so that you can get used to it in your mouth. If you can’t get to where it is comfortable enough in your mouth that it will stay in all night long, you need to return to your orthodontist and either have it adjusted or replaced.

  7. Heather says:

    Hey. I’ve had my braces off for a bit less then a year now, and I was given a Hawley retainer for top and bottom when I first got them off. I have been wearing my retainer everyday for as long as I was told to, which is now just at night. But, I have felt my bite shifting and my teeth are moving back. I haven’t had my last appointment for at least 4 months, and I’m worried that a crack is starting to form between my two front teeth. What can my orthodontist do to help my teeth shift back?

    • The method of closing a space that re-opens after treatment depends upon how big it is. I would advise you to see your orthodontist soon to keep things easier.

  8. Caroline says:

    Hello doctor,
    Today I took out my retainer today after loosing a tooth. I took out for 1-3 hrs and I came back and couldn’t fit my retainer in my mouth. Only to find the wire in the back is completely curled up and I can’t bend the wire to fit my mouth perfectly.

    • Any time a retainer does not fit, you need to have it examined by an orthodontist soon. It may be that the tooth that was under the baby one that you lost is causing the issue.

  9. Lakshmi says:

    Hello I was wearing my retainer after my braces. Now resently i have a permanent retainer on my upper teeth. But still I feel that it moves a little n small gap occurs. If I wear my temporary retainer above it then it closes. And again after two three days if I don’t use my temporary retainer it opens again . What to do ? I have a habit of resting my tongue on upper teeth.

    • Only your local orthodontist can determine the correct retainer type for you. If the one you have is not doing the job, you need to ask about other options before the teeth move too much.

  10. Francis says:

    Hello, I had braces on for 2 and a half years and I got them off 1 month ago, and 2 weeks. I got an essix retainer and after about 3 days of wearing them straight I noticed my bite was totally weird, only my 2nd molars touch when I bite down. Before, my molars and premolars touched. I went back to my ortho and he said that its normal but I dont really believe him honestly, I also have clicking in my jaw a lot recently. I took my retainers off for 2 days to test and my bite went back to normal but my front teeth did shift and I had little gaps so I put them back on. What would you recommend?

    • It is normal for the teeth to shift a little, even when you are wearing your retainers correctly. In your case, I would let your teeth “relax” for a couple of days without the retainers and then get a new impression for a retainer for the teeth in the relaxed position. I think this will be more comfortable for you.

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