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.

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

  1. Kayley says:

    Hello, I got my braces removed about a year and a half ago. I had a permanent retainer placed on my upper teeth but I still feel like they are moving as I’ve noticed that some gaps are appearing. Is there anything I can do to close these gaps and re-align my teeth?

    • There are several options including a new retainer, a series of clear aligners, or some more time in braces. Knowing which one is right for you is the job of an experienced orthodontist.

  2. Holly says:

    I got my braces off just over three weeks ago. My orthodontist told me to wear them day and night for three weeks, then just nightly. However, I took my retainer out today around 5:30 and put them back in at 9:00 and they felt really tight. Is that okay? Should I take the retainer out all day tomorrow or gradually stage it by taking them off an hour earlier each day?

    • Everyone is different and you’ll have to find what works best for you. Please understand that your teeth are going to settle or relax a little when you go to part time retainer wear. The key is to keep those movements to a minimum.

  3. Sandy says:

    I wore braces for two years, braces removed April 2014. On that day and my 2 subsequent check-ins I have commented on how my left side molars come together but the right side do not. I was advised to not wear my retainers (I do have glued on wire ones on top and bottom, front) as we wanted to see how the teeth finally end up. I was told to focus chewing on the right side, and so I have. In February I go in for another check-in. I want my teeth to come together on the right side, so discomfort can subside, my left side won’t be over-used, because I’ve asked my ortho to help me with this, and because I paid thousands for my braces and feel this should be done, and correctly. Can you advise me on what I can say at my Feb 2015 visit so my Orthodontist hears me and helps correct the ‘side-bite’ issues. Thank you in advance!

    • I am not aware of any research which supports the idea that chewing on one side will cause the bite to improve. If your bite doesn’t improve by your next appointment, you need to discuss all options that are available including putting the braces back on until the bite comes together appropriately.

  4. Laura says:

    Hi, i had my braces off about 5 years now, and i have a retainer on my bottom teeth and wear a plastic retainer at night for the top teeth. About a year and a half ago i noticed a tooth toward right bottom teeth move outwards very slightly- i immediately went to my orthodontist and all he said was that teeth will always move around despite the retainers due to growth and that theres nothing i can do about it.

    Now, it has gotten considerably worse to the point that that area seems to be edging out quite obviously and the bottom teeth just looks slanted from the left- not straight at all. Also, my top and bottom teeth do not clench together properly now. i saw him again 2 days ago and he said all he could think of was that my tongue muscles were affecting it and to train my tongue. i researched this and found something called a tongue thrust, if that is the problem, should the orthodontist have recognised this way before? even during braces stage? i feel quite angry that i haven’t been told anything and have only vaguely been told to train my tongue when it has already gotten this bad.

    • Laura, your orthodontist cannot prevent all tooth movement any more than a plastic surgeon can prevent wrinkles and sagging. Don’t alienate your orthodontist just because he gave his opinion on why your teeth are moving. Some people don’t even believe that tongues move teeth when you swallow. You may need additional treatment to get your teeth back to perfect just like a person who gets a face-lift may need a revision later on. Your orthodontist didn’t miss anything nor could he have done anything more than give you retainers after your treatment to prevent movement.

  5. Shannon says:

    Hello, I have worn my retainer religiously until I lost it a couple years ago and I had perfect teeth after getting my braces off (I used to have awful teeth and wore braces for 8 years). I’ve had them off for about 20 years and they have started shifting in the last year since I lost my retainer. I used to have a terrible overbite, now one of my front teeth seems to be going under the other and my bite is off. I got a new retainer from my dentist (not an orthodontist) which he assured me worked better than the old one and it’s the clear retainer which I read above don’t work. My teeth are getting worse. Is this not a real retainer? I’m freaking out. What can be done? I can’t afford a whole new set of braces! I feel scammed.

    • Remember that retainers only “retain” or hold. They won’t make your teeth straighter. If you are wearing it religiously and the teeth are still changing, talk to your orthodontist. I don’t think he is trying to scam you.

  6. Jamie says:

    Hi there,

    I have been reading a lot of comments above regarding teeth moving whilst wearing a retainer.
    I just wanted to clarify a concern I have about this, because as far as I am aware, if you wear your retainer daily and it still fits you, that is surely a sign that your teeth have not moved, correct? Otherwise how would they still fit?

    • This is true to a point. Your teeth are ALWAYS changing no matter what you do. There will always be a degree of movement even if your retainers fit. The retainers are the best way to minimize this movement.

  7. Sophie says:

    Could someone please give me advice….I had my braces off when I was 16 and I’m 23 now. I wore my clear retainer every night until I was about 19, then once every fortnight. I know they say retainers can’t realign your teeth but whenever mine moved a bit, the retainer would always move it back.

    A year ago I got a small crack in the bottom retainer. Now, my bottom two teeth have crossed over a little. My top retainer also, is not cracked, but doesn’t seem to work anymore. It fits on, and doesn’t hurt, but it isn’t stopping my teeth from moving!

    I feel bad after spending years with braces on. The orthodontist just says I can get another retainer made with my current teeth- and I don’t want my current teeth, I want my teeth 7 years ago when I had them off! The Orthodontist doesn’t seem helpful, they are all about how to make money. I need some genuine advice- what can I do? I don’t want braces again, as I think the work just relapses whatever you do!

    • Once the teeth have moved enough, a retainer will not re-straighten them. At that point you will need some aligners. They are like clear retainers, but the teeth have been strategically moved on the models. You need to find an orthodontist who uses clear aligners for mild relapse cases and get a quote from him. It will be cheaper and faster than full braces assuming your teeth have only moved a little.

  8. Lauren says:

    Can your teeth move even if you wear your retainer day and night? I got told to wear it full time for 3 months then cut down to 3 full days a week, but I’m too paranoid to do that and I still wear it full time just incase.

    Also, can retainers sort of misshape? and do orthodontists keep your teeth measurements for a new retainer or do they mold your teeth again for one? because I’m thinking of buying a new one as I feel like my older ones have misshaped unless I’m being paranoid.

    Thank you

    • Yes, teeth move even with retainers. Nothing can stop the body from changing, but retainers do a good job of keeping the changes to a minimum. Faces wrinkle, tummies sag, and teeth shift. It is part of the human experience.

  9. Lauren says:

    I got my braces off around 4 years ago. My teeth moved pretty quickly and I only needed them for about a year. For about 6 weeks afteri wore my retainer day and night, now I just wear it at night. I got stitches right above my lip 5 days ago so I haven’t worn it since then because I didn’t want it the bother the stitches and the pain in my lip. Today I noticed that there was a gap between my front two teeth and I realized that they moved! My bottom teeth hurt to so I put on my retainer. The bottom feels ok (except it still hurts) but the top keeps popping off! Is it normal for teeth to move this quickly? What should I do ?

  10. Jasmine says:

    I got my braces off on the 5th of February. I got told by my orthodontist to wear my retainer constantly besides when I eat which I have been doing, however I’ve noticed that one of my top front teeth has shifted more down than the other even when wearing my retainer so they don’t look as straight anymore & it’s only been a month:(.

    • There is always some post-treatment “settling” that occurs after the braces are removed. Show your orthodontist what has happened at your retainer check appointment. He may adjust the length of the tooth, adjust the retainer, give you a new retainer that can move the tooth back up, or even put brackets on for a few more weeks and then bond a retainer behind the teeth to prevent a recurrence again.

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