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.

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

  1. Carly says:

    Hi, I had braces for two years and got them off in 7th grade, and had permanent retainers on top and bottom for five years until I just recently had them removed a few months ago. I’ve worn clear removable retainers at night since getting my braces off as well, and replaced those upon getting the perm one out. I’ve noticed since getting my perm. removed that there is some slight shifting in my front teeth that goes away after wearing my retainer. Is this possible? Or is it my imagination? The clear retainers fit fine every night, no tightness, and I don’t have wisdom teeth that could be disrupting them

  2. Lauren says:

    Hey, I got my braces on 15th January 2014 and got them off 24th September the same year! It was a surprise for me having known that most people have them on a lot longer. The first night of wearing it for 12 hours, I woke up in the middle of the night and my retainer was at the end of my bed.. That’s the only time it’s ever happened! But I put it back in and continued with putting it in for 12hours every day for a week and then only night times after that. I realised a lot that during the day, my two front teeth move quite a bit. My right one tilts forward. It’s not too noticeable unless you see from under and sometimes from the side! My last appointment, maybe a few months back, my orthodontist told me everything was looking great and he didn’t even realise the movement although it was obvious. So I left it, knowing he’d just said it was fine. He also said that I can wear my retainer every other night now, meaning I wear it one day and miss the next day sort of thing. But I only wear it from 11pm to 6:30am because of school schedule. Is this the reason my teeth move so much?

    • All teeth are slightly mobile. You are very conscious of it and are focusing on it. If your orthodontist has seen you recently and is not concerned then everything is probably OK.

  3. Lizzie says:

    I have had my braces off since December so 6 months and I try to wear my retainer every night but I forget and they have moved slightly and my retainer still fits but it actually seems to be makin it more crooked at the bottom and they always get loose in the night and fall out I don’t think I have ever gone a night since I got them with our them falling out .

  4. Angie says:

    Hi Dr,
    I had my braces removed approx 2 weeks ago. I’ve got a fixed retainer top and bottom. On the bottom on one of my front teeth is moving a little if I wiggle gently. It also appears it is not fixed to the retainer. Should all of my teeth within the retainer be fixed to the retainer? Or just bonded on the ends? Is it normal for there to be so much movement on one particular tooth? Thanks.

    • There are many different ways of retaining teeth and many types of retainers. I think you need to meet with your orthodontist and have him explain what he’s doing to keep your teeth straight.

  5. Megan says:

    I got my braces off when I was 14, about 7 years ago. Recently, the alignment of my teeth is off and I have a gap between my top and bottom teeth. I had my wisdom teeth out last year. Could that be affecting my alignment? Is this normal movement or is there something else going on?

    • I do not think that removing your wisdom teeth caused this at all. Everything in our bodies sags, thins, and wrinkles with time. Spacing between the teeth occurs as we age whether or not we have wisdom teeth.

  6. Phukan says:

    How to tighten the retainer(at home) if its loosing? I am using it from 6 months(prescribed by dentist) 6-8 hours a day. I just have one crooked teeth on the front. I need my teeth to straighten fast. Please suggest.

  7. Caroline says:

    I had my braces for about two and a half years, and I got them off almost two years ago. I’ve been extremely careful to wear my hard metal and plastic retainers every night (in partial fear that I would have to go back to braces again if my teeth shifted.) Yet I made sure to wear them every night like my orthodontist said, but in more recent months, I’ve noticed that my teeth have been shifting and one tooth in particular has risen above the even level with the others that it used to be at. Should I consider trying Invisalign? I’ve already paid top-dollar for two and a half years in braces.

    • I think you need to counsel with the orthodontist that did your original treatment. I don’t charge my patients for full treatment again if things start to change. We have a very reduced fee that just allows us to cover the expenses. He may do the same for you.

  8. Hannah says:

    I just got my braces off last week and this week the doctor gave me the retainer . I had my braces for about year and half . I realized that when I’m wearing the retainer one of the top teeth is shifting to the back leaving the other on the forward and it hurts . When I take off my retainer the tooth returns to it’s normal place . Is this normal ? Should I keep wearing the retainer or should I visit my doctor ? My next appointment is after 2 months . Thanks and sorry for my bad English

    • Any time a retainer is causing pain, you need to be seen by the doctor who made it. It may be a quick fix or it may be more involved. Don’t self diagnose. Get in to see your doctor before the 2 month appointment

  9. Lizeth says:

    I got my braces taken off in 8th grade. I am now a 10th grader and I’ve been wearing my retainer ever since but now I feel like it’s too loose and my teeth are moving. What should I do?

  10. Megan says:

    Hi, I just got my brace off the other day (only had a top one) and just got the clear plastic retainer today. I took it out after a couple of hours to eat my tea and put it back in but it really hurt a couple of teeth on the right side of my mouth. I took out out again to brush my teeth before bed and the ones that we’re hurting feel loose is this normal?

    • It is normal for the teeth to feel loose, maybe even be a little sore for a couple of days after appliance removal. Give it another few days then call your doctor if necessary.

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