Dr. Greg Jorgensen
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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.

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

  1. Catherine says:

    Hello,
    I got my braces off the beginning of June. In September, I went to the orthodontist to fix my retainer because I feared that the way the retainer looked would shit my teeth. Later on, my teeth started to shift, so I went back to my orthodontist. They adjusted my retainer again, but my teeth just keep shifting. I went again yesterday, but my teeth just keep shifting and shifting. I had an open bite before getting braces. I have one specific tooth Im worried about and my canine tooth looks like it has shifted also. Should I go back to my orthodontist to get Invisalign or braces again? My teeth are straight, it’s just that two teeth look out of place to me and I’m not happy with how it looks. I don’t know whether it’ll be worth the money just to fix to teeth.

    • There will always be some change in the position of your teeth after the removal of your braces. Retainers are the best devices we have to keep those changes to a minimum. You should discuss your concerns with your orthodontist and ask if what you are seeing is normal. If you are unhappy with the position of the teeth or with the answers of your current doctor, you may want to get a second opinion. There is no way to prevent all post-treatment change.

  2. Ryan says:

    I havent wore my retainer in a while and my teeth are definatly shifting, how do i get them too move back

  3. Qi zhe says:

    I think that my retainer is not tight enough, because when I am wearing my retainer, I feel that there is some space or air inside one part of my retainer, and I can suck the air out. It make me looks awkward because my mouth always open until my 1/4 of tongue can come out. And my mouth open bigger than who wears retainer.
    Should I go to see my orthodontist and change a new retainer.

  4. Nikkie says:

    hi,
    so i had braces for three years and i got them off last june. before i had braces, i had quite a big gap between my two front teeth. after the braces, they were perfect, but my orthodontist told me i needed to get my wisdom teeth removed to prevent post-treatment shifting. in december of that same year, i got them removed. they had told me to wear my retainers nightly prior to the procedure, and i had, up until i got them out because it hurt to wear my retainers with my mouth all messed up, as they had to cut into my gums and give me stitches to remove them. anyways, while i was recovering, i didnt wear my retainer for about five days, but returned to wearing it nightly immediately after that. my teeth seemed fine, but i had my last retainer check a few weeks ago and i noticed the gap starting to form again. my orthodontist just told me to wear my retainer and they would be fine, which they are in the morning, but the gap gets wider as the day goes on. what should i do?

    • In my experience, the only way to keep a space between the front two teeth closed long term is to bond a permanent retainer. Ask your orthodontist about this and understand that in many cases this means you’ll have to purchase another replacement retainer to wear over the bonded retainer since the old one may not fit.

  5. Kiana says:

    Hi, I was given the clear retainer and I have to wear it for 8 weeks until I am able to get my regular retainer. Problem is I lost my clear retainer and my next orthodontist appointment isn’t until January 1st. Do you think my teeth would have shifted to the extent where I won’t be able to wear the regular retainer when I get it?

  6. Kathleen says:

    Hi,
    I just got my braces off yesturday nd I’m wearing my retainers day nd night for the next two weeks but the retainer are hurting my teeth is that normal ?

    • There is an adjustment period to the retainers after the braces come off. If your teeth don’t feel good within a week however, you need to return to your orthodontist for a check.

  7. Joyce says:

    Hello,
    I have already discussed this with my orthodontist but I would really like a second opinion. I had braces for almost 2 years. I started out with a large overbite and my lateral incisors were way up (instead of down by my front 2 teeth). My lateral incisors are naturally small, they’re not as big as they should be. I had extractions to fix the overbite and everything came together nicely. When the braces came off, my teeth looked really nice. I no longer had an overbite. My lateral incisors were down and normal looking. But it didn’t stay like this. I had an essix retainer and wore it 24/7 for about 5 months. The lateral incisors had started to move up. I got the hawley retainer after that which I loved (hated the essix) and I wore it 24/7 for about 5-6 more months and then went to night wear. My lateral incisors went completely back to where they were and looked so bad. It was obvious in my smile and I could only smile showing my full mouth (which looks forced) instead of just the top teeth like most people do cause it looked terrible when I smiled with just the top teeth. Everything else maintained nicely. I got my braces back on and my orthodontist has told me the only way to hold the lateral incisors in place is a permanent retainer on the top teeth for life. I have a permanent on the bottom and although I tolerate it, I don’t like it and find it annoying cause my tongue keeps hitting it.

    I did notice though that after the first year, my teeth stopped moving. Even when my retainer broke and I went a month without it, I didn’t notice much movement. They say teeth move the most in the first year after braces so is it possible to have a permanent just for a year or two (while also wearing the hawley) and then take it off and keep wearing the hawley at night? I really don’t want a permanent on the top for life. But my ortho said that the hawley doesn’t hold the laterals in place and they would still move after the first year. What are your thoughts?

    • Your lateral incisors will never be stable without permanent retention because they are genetically smaller/shorter. If you want them to be more stable, let them move back up (relapse) and them have them veneered so they are the length you want. That is really the only solution for what you are describing.

      • Joyce says:

        Thank you so much for getting back with me! So just to clarify, it would have to be permanent retention for life to prevent them from moving? I really don’t want to go the veneer route so I just want to ensure that leaving the permanent retainer on for two years and then removing it and still wearing the hawley isn’t an option?

        • Joyce says:

          Also I have one more question, sorry! I saw my regular dentist today and he said he doesn’t see how there’s room for a bonded retainer on the top. I had already read online how some people, the way their bite is can’t have a permanent retainer on the top teeth because their bottom teeth will clash with it and feel like they are biting on it. Does this sound like the case here? I just would have thought my orthodontist would have told me if I couldn’t have one.

        • There is never any set time where the teeth will be stable Joyce. If you remove the bonded retainer at two years, you will probably see some change. How much is anyone’s guess. This human body of ours is constantly changing.

  8. Martina says:

    Hello Dr Jorgensen,

    I got my braces of a quite a few months ago and was instructed by my orthodontist to wear my retainers at night only. I also got a permanent on my central incisors but maybe two weeks ago I think one side has come off slightly, with my tongue I can feel one side is smooth and unnoticeable the feels off, and when I run my tongue over the teeth now I feel the incisor with the weaker bond is moving backwards.
    What should I do, can it they remain straight with just the retainer or do I need the permanent one re-bonded?

  9. Marisa says:

    Hi Dr. Jorgenson
    In 2006 I got braces and only had them on for two years. I wore my retainers as my orthodontist ordered. Fast forward four years I noticed my top teeth have shifted outward, I visisted my orthodontist and had to get braces once again. This time I only had them on for a couple of months. All was great until my wisdom teeth are starting to grow in. I have already been to the dentist about it and she informed me that my bottom wisdom teeth are growing in sideways and that there are nerves really close and that if she goes through with the surgery that I may lose feelings in my lip. But now I am noticing that my bottom teeth aren’t straight anymore, is it possible that the wisdom teeth are moving my other teeth? Just wondering what I should do.

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