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.

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

  1. Chance says:

    are retainers suppose to move your teeth because my teeth are not moving?

    • Retainers “retain” or hold. They are not meant to move anything. “Aligners” are clear shells that are designed to move teeth. The two terms are not the same thing.

  2. Dennies says:

    I’ve had my braces off for a short time and have gotten plastic retainers, but i’ve noticed my permanent teeth are wiggling. It’s visible, and really freaking me out. I don’t brush as often, and I know I should. But will they heal? Or do i have to get artificial teeth?

  3. Ana says:

    hey! i just got my braces off and i have a clear retainer. when i first got it it was tight and now it fits comfortably, but i can take it off with my tongue. is that normal? i mean my reatinaer slides on and off like nothing but still fits on my teeth and stays there till i take it out… should i get it checked out?

    • Clear retainers should be snug but passive (meaning they fit over the teeth accurately but do not add any force). Depending up on the shape of your teeth, you may or may not be able to dislodge it with your tongue. Only your local orthodontist can tell you if it is fitting well.

  4. Gaby says:

    Hello, I had my top braces removed for almost a month now. & it seems that my teeth are not as aligned as they were the day the braces came off. I wear the clear retainer all the time, only take it off to brush or eat. Although it fits comfortably now, the right side of the retainer did not fit very well the first few days. Is it possible that the clear retainer changed the alignment on my teeth?

    • It is doubtful that the retainer moved the teeth, but the fact that it didn’t fit when it was provided is troublesome. A retainer will never fit better than when it is first delivered. If it didn’t fit well at first, it will not get better.

  5. Christy says:

    My daughter recently got her braces off after two and a half years. She was fitted for a clear retainer which fits over her top teeth and a small one, which fits over her front bottom teeth. She is unable to remove the top retainer(if this is what it is called) without pain, bleeding gums and a lot of tugging from someone else. I tried to call her Orthodontist last night-the night she got them, but he did not return my call(I called his after hours number) Everyone in our house is stressed over this. She is in pain, and I feel this is not acceptable. How can I remove the retainer so she can eat, drink and brush without causing her pain and bleeding gums? I tried to call the office back this morning, but they do not open until 0830. Any suggestion you have would be helpful. Thank you.

    • Clear shell retainers can be very tight at first. Luckily they loosen with time. The easiest way is to get a fingernail under the plastic on either the inside or outside of the BACK teeth and pull down and forward. If it went on, it will come off. Your orthodontist can reduce the amount of plastic between the teeth which will reduce the tightness, but that requires a trip to his office with the retainer.

  6. Isabelle Monnin says:

    I got my braces off about 3 years ago and was given a plastic retainer. I wore it as directed for the first year, but have given up since then. No matter how long I wear it, when I take it off my teeth move back to being crooked within 30 minutes. Is there any way to fix this or is it just how my teeth are? And is wearing the retainer pointless? It still fits, but I feel there’s no point in putting it on when the work it does goes away right after taking it off.

    • This is something that you need to discuss with your doctor with your mouth and retainer in his office. There should not be noticeable differences in the alignment of the teeth within 30 minutes. You need to see your orthodontist and discuss your case with him personally.

  7. Dana says:

    I just got my braces off 4 days ago after having it for 4 years; 3 days ago, got my pair of clear retainers. I was told to wear it 24/7 except when I’m cleaning it. However, I wasn’t very obedient cause I felt uncomfortable eating with it (both up and down would come off whenever I’d chew causing food to settle inside my retainers), I decided to remove it whenever I eat. I feel bad cause I can see some slight misalignment in my teeth. I’m scared. Will I need to go back to wearing braces or will following my dentist’s prescription for retainer usage fix the problem?

    • These are questions for your orthodontist. Some slight movement is normal and expected. Having to wear the retainers 24/7 including during eating is a little much in my opinion.

  8. Ella says:

    I took off my braces about a year ago and got my retainers. I wasn’t really wearing them and I’ve noticed that one of my teeth has tilted so I continued to wear them again. But although my retainers still fit the tooth hasn’t gotten any better. What should I do?

  9. Stephanie Jefferson says:

    Hi I’ve had my braces off for 6 months now. I wear my wire retailer everyday and when I sleep, but recently I’ve notice my bottom teeth are becoming crooked? What’s wrong??:(

    • Teeth are going to shift a little, but it should be minimal. I place fixed retainers in the lower because removable ones are not as effective for me. Ask your orthodontist is maybe you should consider a change.

  10. James Foster says:

    So I got my braces of just 4 months ago, I have being wearing my retainer every night as my orthodontist said to do. Yet my front teeth have gone crooked again. So I went back to my dentist he told me I HAD not being wearing my retainer when I HAVE worn it every night! So he told me to wear my retainer 24/7 after tightining my retainer and now after a month my retainer no longer feels tight from when he tightened it, but rather just snug yet my teeth are still the same and havent being corrected?! This also happened when I got my braces off. My retainer was tight but then it went snug, except my teeth had gone crooked when really if your teeth move the retainer should feel tight again? Thats what my dentist told me. So is it possible my retainer is somehow stretching against it’s will? Or is it that my wisdom tooth which just started coming through, has something to do with this?

    • First, your wisdom teeth have nothing to do with this. Second, a LITTLE bit of movement after the braces come off is normal, not a lot. Third, if the movement of your teeth is visually unacceptable, just wearing a tightened retainer will not be enough to move your teeth back to the correct position. This will require either putting brackets back on or using some form of aligner.

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