Teeth moved since having braces many years ago?

Anyone that has received orthodontic treatment is at risk of potential relapse or future tooth movement. Orthodontic relapse can be defined as the tendency for teeth to return to their pre-treatment position, and this occurs especially in lower front teeth.

Get your orthodontic retainers checked

Relapse is a phenomenon that causes teeth to slowly shift out of alignment long after treatment has occured. Frustratingly, relapse calls for another round of orthodontics to correct. Fortunately full correction is much more simple with clear aligners and doesn’t usually require full braces

Whether you’ve had metal braces, clear braces or removable Invisalign aligners, everyone needs to wear retainers. In order to hold & retain teeth in their final position long term. At first you are required to wear them 12-22 hours per day. After 12 months of continuous retainer wear, it is common that you will be recommend to wear your retainers 3-5 times a week for as long as you live. 

Unfortunately, once your braces are off, if you do not use some sort of retainer on a regular basis, in most cases at least one of your teeth will shift and move out of alignment.


There are a number of different kinds of retainers, and the good news is they all work! 

These include clear removable plastic retainers (Essix), clip in and out hard acrylic and metal retainers (Hawley), and permanent wire retainers bonded to the back of your front teeth. 

Reasons for relapse

The ligaments, gingival fibres and bone surrounding newly aligned teeth need time to “settle” into place once treatment is complete. Teeth do infact stabilise with time, but the risk of relapse is always present. There are many factors that contribute to orthodontic relapse. Tooth movement or shifting involves a number of factors, ranging from genetics to habitual teeth grinding. That’s why retention is vital to enjoying a gorgeous smile that lasts a lifetime.

Teeth grinding. The forces at play when grinding teeth propels the lower jaw forward and places strain on the upper row of teeth. The repeated tension on the upper arch impacts the position of teeth, often causing them to fall out of alignment. Many people unknowingly also grind or clench teeth in their sleep. 

Genetics. Even if adult teeth form naturally aligned, genetics can prompt teeth to shift in adulthood.

Latent lower jaw growth.

Age. Teeth weaken as we grow older. As the protective enamel begins to thin and wear away with age, teeth may buckle under pressure and shift. Tooth movement due to age is especially common in lower front teeth.

Tooth loss. The naturally occurring action known as “mesial drift” triggers teeth to migrate toward the front of the smile. When a tooth goes missing, its gap creates room for teeth to move dramatically and promote misalignment. 

Mesial drifting. An example of what happens to remaining teeth
many years after a tooth is removed.

Retainers are also used to monitor movement between appointments. You can gauge tooth movement by how tight a retainer fits when inserted. If you’re wearing the retainer according to your dental practitioners instructions and it begins to cause discomfort or feel tight, this means relapse is occuring. You can respond by wearing the retainer more frequently and have them professionally checked by your orthodontist or an orthodontically trained dentist, like Dr Chris Lauf.  A well-fitting retainer should feel snug, but not uncomfortable or tight.

Retainer care

Retainers need retaining, too. Maintenance is key to proper retainer use. No one wants to place a dirty, smelly retainer in their mouth! Thankfully, keeping clear plastic retainers clean and fresh is easy. If you notice that your retainer is cracked or very dirty, you should have a NEW one made. 

Fixed retainers are cleaned as you brush your teeth, but food debris and hardened calcified tartar commonly becomes wedged underneath wire and between the gums. Annual professional scale and cleans are essential for people who have fixed WIRE retainers bonded behind their teeth. 

With proper retainer use and good maintenance following treatment, your new smile can last forever. Retainers can’t, however. The average lifespan of an Essix retainer is about two to five years, depending on patient care and use. Just like any other orthodontic appliance, retainers are susceptible to wear and tear from chewing and teeth grinding. If handled too roughly, they can crack. Because retention is absolutely necessary once treatment is complete, we encourage patients to promptly visit us for retainer repair or replacement. Keeping your teeth aligned and gums healthy is well worth the minor expense associated with making new reliable retainers. 

Help protect your removable retainer by placing it in a retainer case when not in use. Be careful where you take them out. Very often retainers are placed in a napkin at mealtimes and thrown away by mistake. If you have lost your retainers, contact us quickly so you can have new ones made. 

If you have more questions about what happens to your teeth long after the braces are gone, or you think your teeth may have “relapsed” and become crooked again, have them corrected easily with clear aligners. Schedule a RETAINER CHECK with Dr Chris Lauf to find out more. 


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