Here at Mack Orthodontics, we understand that choosing orthodontic treatment is a major decision and a big investment. So when you finally get your braces off or use your last aligner, it feels amazing seeing how all your hard work has paid off! As you leave your orthodontist’s office with retainer in hand, you have every intention of wearing it exactly the way you’re supposed to. And for a while, you do! But over time, that resolve fades a bit. There’s a night here and a night there where you forget to put it in. That begins to happen more and more often. Then one day you realize that you don’t even know where your retainer is!
That’s a bit of a wake-up call, so you keep reminding yourself to phone the orthodontist’s office to schedule an appointment to replace it. Life gets busy, and before you know it, replacing your retainer gets pushed to the bottom of your to-do list. Then something starts to feel a little off about your smile. You look in a mirror or zoom in on a photo and realize to your dismay that your teeth have shifted and started to move back towards their old positions in your mouth. What now?
If this scene sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone! We see many adult patients in our practice who are dealing with this exact same situation and want to know what they can do to make things right again. The good news is, Dr. Mack has years of experience in successfully using touch-up treatment to correct an orthodontic relapse! If you’re finally ready to get your smile back on track, our expert team can help. Keep reading below to learn more about what an orthodontic relapse is, what can cause it, and what Mack Orthodontics can do about it!
What is an orthodontic relapse?
Orthodontic relapse is the term we use to describe the teeth’s tendency to return to the original positions they were in prior to orthodontic treatment. Short-term relapse generally happens less than one year after the completion of treatment, while long-term relapse occurs more than a year after finishing treatment.
Orthodontic relapse is fairly common, with close to half of patients experiencing some level of relapse within 10 years or so of completing their treatment. Because of this, the orthodontic field has reconsidered its approach to retainer wear in recent years. Many adults who have dealt with a relapse were told as teens that they could discontinue wearing their retainer after a year or two. However, most orthodontists now agree that retainers should actually be for life.
That kind of commitment might sound scary, but in most cases, you’ll only need to wear your retainers at night after a period of adjustment. This will usually be enough to keep your newly straightened smile in place.
What causes an orthodontic relapse?
There can be several factors that contribute to teeth shifting after treatment, but the most common is irregular retainer use. It’s an unfortunate fact that many people underestimate the importance of a retainer, especially if it’s been a while since treatment has concluded. But treatment doesn’t stop once your braces come off or aligners run out!
After the initial phase of treatment is complete, the teeth and surrounding bone and gums will still need time to solidify in their new locations. Wearing a retainer as directed will help protect the teeth from the forces always trying to pull them back to their previous positions, and will assist with long-term stabilization, too.
Other reasons for an orthodontic relapse include, but are not limited to:
If you’re a tooth grinder, you probably already know some of the damage it can cause! Chronic tooth grinding produces a continuous force that can place a strain on your teeth over time. It even has the ability to eventually alter your bite and cause misalignment.
If you’ve lost one or more teeth due to trauma, decay, or periodontal disease, the teeth surrounding that empty space may begin to drift towards it. If this is left uncorrected for a long enough period of time, it can eventually lead to a misaligned bite.
Genetics and natural aging
Even if genetics gave you a beautiful smile in the beginning, you might have noticed your teeth shifting a bit as you grow older. This is a common occurrence, especially in the front teeth, which tend to be more susceptible to shifting under pressure due to the thinning enamel.
How are orthodontic relapses treated?
We have a few different options available when it comes to addressing an orthodontic relapse.
Monitoring the teeth
Minor tooth movement will occur for everyone at some point, even with the best retainer and complete compliance. That’s because the bone and gums that support your teeth change as you age, causing teeth to naturally shift. Retainers can also become slightly distorted with wear and become less effective over time.
If you’ve worn your retainer exactly as directed and there has only been minor shifting of your teeth, we’re often able to leave things as they are for the time being and just monitor your teeth for any further shifting.
Fabricating new retainers
There are some types of minor movement we’ll want to treat. These can often be corrected with a new or replacement retainer, so if you’ve lost or broken your retainer, this will be one of the first things we do. In general, fixed retainers are good for maintaining the alignment of the lower teeth, while removable aligners will typically be recommended for the upper teeth.
If it turns out that you’re suffering from a significant orthodontic relapse, we may recommend retreatment with braces or aligners. As an adult, you might not be too happy with the idea of dealing with traditional braces again, but we’re able to offer a variety of treatment options to correct your relapses from slight to complex. These include discreet options like clear braces and Invisalign clear aligners.
Get your smile back where it belongs with Mack Orthodontics
Whatever the reason behind your orthodontic relapse, Dr. Mack and the rest of our orthodontic team are here to help! If you’re ready to rediscover a straighter, healthier smile, get in touch today and schedule a FREE consultation !