Your smile is your most important asset. Children, teens, and adults alike look forward to having a straight set of pearly whites to increase their confidence. Sometimes, however, years after your braces have come off, that smile you once loved might have become a little more crooked than you remember it being.
If you used to have a picture-perfect smile, and now you’re feeling like your teeth are shifting on you again, you aren’t alone. It’s more common than you might think for patients to neglect their retainers and find a difference in their smile quality later in life. This natural concern results from orthodontic relapse, a condition that causes your teeth to revert to their original positions over time.
It is a fact that one in every five orthodontic patients is an adult seeking a straighter smile. At McGrory Orthodontics, many of our adult patients have already had braces at some time or another and are now looking for a touch-up. If this sounds like you, let’s take a closer look at what causes an orthodontic relapse, why you should treat it, and what we can do to bring your smile back up to par.
“Orthodontic relapse” is a term used to describe the tendency of teeth to return to their original positions. Two types of orthodontic relapse can cause your smile quality to decrease.
Short-term relapse: This form of orthodontic relapse is most likely to occur soon after we remove your braces. If your teeth shift less than one year after orthodontic treatment is complete, you’re experiencing a short-term relapse.
Long-term relapse: This type of orthodontic relapse happens long after you’ve finished treatment. If your teeth begin to appear crooked a year or more after treatment, you’re experiencing a long-term relapse.
Orthodontic relapses are extremely common. Some studies estimate that more than 50% of patients experience a relapse within ten years of treatment — wow! That’s because orthodontists used to recommend wearing retainers for only a year or two after treatment. Without using a retainer to hold your teeth in that straight line, your teeth probably got a little too comfortable and began to settle back into their original positions. Now, orthodontists recommend wearing retainers every night for life for the best results.
Causes & concerns
After the initial phase of treatment is complete, the teeth and surrounding bone and gums still need time to solidify in their new locations. Wearing your retainers as directed by Dr. McGrory or Dr. McCarty will help protect your teeth from the forces trying to pull them back to their previous positions and assist with the stabilization effort over time.
Although the most common reason for orthodontic relapse is not wearing your retainer for the appropriate amount of time, there are several reasons your teeth might have shifted.
Grinding your teeth
Chronic tooth grinders are very familiar with the problems that this condition causes. From headaches to jaw pain, tooth grinding can do a lot of damage. When it comes to keeping your teeth in line, in particular, grinding your teeth places a lot of stress on your teeth, and that continuous force can cause them to shift in your mouth even after braces.
The good news is that wearing your retainer can usually help with this problem.
Aging & genetics
It probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise to learn that your genes play a role in how straight your teeth will stay after orthodontic treatment. The natural set of your mouth can mean your smile is more or less likely to shift out of line over time.
Good genes or bad genes, we are all prone to aging. As you get older, your back teeth naturally shift forward in your mouth, causing misalignment even after treatment.
If you’ve lost one or more teeth due to trauma, decay, or periodontal disease, the teeth surrounding those empty spaces will often begin to shift toward those spaces. Left unmanaged, it can eventually lead to misalignment of the teeth and the bite.
Treatment for orthodontic relapse
After wearing braces for years, it can be upsetting to see your teeth shifting out of line. But don’t worry! This is where McGrory Orthodontics steps in to help. There are a few different options to treat an orthodontic relapse.
If you’re dealing with a short-term or minor relapse, a new retainer may set your teeth straight again! If you’ve lost or broken your retainer, creating a new one fit for your mouth is the first step we take. For your bottom teeth, we might even recommend a fixed retainer.
Monitoring your teeth
Even with the best retainer and complete compliance, you’re still likely to experience minor tooth movement over time. As we mentioned above, the bones and gums that support your teeth change as you age, and retainers can also become slightly distorted with wear.
If you’ve worn your retainer as directed by Dr. McGrory or Dr. McCarty and there has only been minor shifting of your teeth, we’re usually able to leave things as they are for the time being and just monitor your teeth for any further movement.
For those of you who have suffered more severe or long-term orthodontic relapses, Dr. McGrory or Dr. McCarty may recommend retreatment with braces or aligners.
Before you balk at the idea of having braces as an adult, our McGrory Orthodontics team has a variety of treatment options to correct your relapse. These comfortable and discreet treatments — like Invisalign® or clear braces — help you to correct your smile without having to deal with traditional braces twice in your life.
Benefits of retreatment
The thought of retreatment can feel overwhelming, but there are good reasons for correcting your orthodontic relapse! First and foremost is improved oral health. Crowded teeth create crevices where food particles accumulate, leading to plaque and tartar buildup. Teeth that are correctly spaced and aligned are easier to keep clean with your regular dental hygiene routine.
Retreatment can also restore that beautiful smile you once loved, which can make you feel more confident in your daily life and improve your self-esteem.
Correcting a relapse often takes much less time than your initial treatment — that’s the good news! Whether you choose braces or aligner treatment with McGrory Orthodontics to correct your orthodontic relapse, the results will be more than worth it when you recognize your smile in the mirror again.
Restore your smile with McGrory Orthodontics!
No matter your age or your circumstances, our team at McGrory Orthodontics is here to help give you the smile makeover you deserve. If you’re ready to get started, schedule your free consultation with Dr. McGrory or Dr. McCarty today!