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 weeks 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 changes would be noticeable.

To keep the amount of movement 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 its own 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. There is nothing on the body that does not sag and wrinkle with age.

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 how 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 the positions of 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 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 nearly 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 is 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. Please understand that because he has tens of thousands of readers each month, IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR HIM TO RESPOND TO EVERY QUESTION. 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.

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

  1. Carol says:

    Ok.So my question is I got braces put on about 10 yrs ago and I have a permanent retainer behind my front teeth. I have noticed that I have a small gap between my teeth. What is the reason for this if I have a permanent retainer? Should I go see my orthodontist and if so what if anything can he do?

    • Retainers are the best thing we have to MINIMIZE changes in the positions of the teeth, but nothing can prevent all movement. If you have a change that is unacceptable, please return to your orthodontist to explore your options. Good luck!

  2. Ryan says:

    My braces were removed 9 years ago, and while I still use my retainer every night, I wake up with a nearly closed gap and by the end of the day my front two teeth are a mm or two apart. This has happened since the day my braces were taken off. Besides wearing a retainer every day for the rest of my life, can I get this fixed somehow? If I get a permanent retainer on the back, my teeth probably won’t be fully together. Can the permanent retainer be adjusted to close the gap fully? I’ve never had a problem with any of my other teeth except those two.

    • I see this over and over again in patients who started with a gap between their front teeth. It may mean that the tooth sizes are not matched (i.e. narrow uppers). The remedy to either have the upper teeth widened or a permanent retainer glued behind them. I tend to do the latter and keep the bonded retainer there indefinately

  3. Bill says:

    I got my braces off around 7 years ago. My orthodontist gave me a pair of clear retainers, top and bottom, and I wore them religiously… for a while. I didn’t wear them at all this past year. When I tried them on again, the bottom one was tight, but they still fit. However, after wearing them consistently, I’ve found that only my front teeth touch when I bite down. I saw a new orthodontist (I’ve moved across the US since the braces came off), and he recommends new Invisalign treatment. How could my teeth move so much if the retainers still fit?

    • I can’t answer specifically for you, but it is possible that although the position of the teeth in each arch has not changed much, your bite may have. The only way to know would be for you to get pictures of how your bite looked when your braces came off 7 years ago

  4. Samuel says:

    I got retainer off 7 months ago and I have noticed that my teeth are seperating. Is this natural? I have an orthodontist appointment next Wednesday just as a checkup.

    • Your teeth, like everything else in your body, will change the rest of your life (everything sags and wrinkles with age!) If you have a permanent retainer removed, you really need to replace it with a removable one so that the teeth will stay as straight as possible.

  5. Brittany.E.R says:

    Hey so after I got my braces off I wore them daily and then I got out of that habit for a few months and then I noticed my teeth moving so luckily I got back into the habit of wearing my retainer and have been every day (some off days) for about 2 years now but all of a sudden I find that 1 side of the retainer doesn’t quite fit (kind of clicks around just doesn’t seem to fit) and it’s much easier to move around with my tongue it’s only that 1 side (I also have a cracked tooth there) what do I do?

    • You need to return to your orthodontist with your retainer for an adjustment or replacement. He’ll be able to tell you right away what will work best for your teeth. Good luck!

  6. Ashley says:

    I love chewing on my retainers (I have the transparent ones) for some weird reason. Is it a bad habit? Am I required to put a stop to it?

    • That is a habit that is hard to break. You may eventually wear holes in the retainers so they’ll need to be replaced, but your teeth should not suffer from it.

  7. Summer says:

    So I have gotten my braces off a few months ago, and then got retainers shortly after. I’ve been wearing them day and night as prescribed, however i noticed that my teeth have been getting worse, and not being kept straight. a few teeth have shifted forward and some back.

    • Some movement is natural as I described in my article Summer. But if you think that the amount of movement is excessive, you need to return to your orthodontist and show him what is going on.

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