It’s exciting when your braces come off or you use your last aligner. All your hard work and dedication has finally paid off, and you’ve got a beautiful new smile to show for it! You head home with your new retainer and the best intentions to wear it exactly as directed…and initially you do. However, over time, it becomes easier and easier to fall asleep without popping your retainer in before bed, and before you know it, you can’t even remember the last time you wore it. You may not even remember where it is!
As time goes on, calling the orthodontist to replace that retainer keeps getting pushed to the bottom of your to-do list. Then one day, you notice something in your mouth feels a bit off, or see a picture of you smiling, and realize to your dismay that your teeth have shifted! If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Here at McGrory Orthodontics, we see many adult patients who need touch-up treatment to correct a relapse. Let’s take a look at what causes a relapse and what we can do to return your smile to its former straightened glory!
The reasons for relapse
Although infrequent retainer use isn’t always to blame for a relapse, it is the most common reason. Many patients underestimate the importance of retainers, but the truth is, treatment doesn’t end once the braces come off or the aligners run out. The teeth and surrounding bone and gums require time to solidify in their new locations the initial phase of treatment is complete. A retainer works to protect the teeth from the forces that want to pull them back to their previous positions and stabilize them over time. There can be other reasons for an orthodontic relapse, however. These include:
Teeth grinding – If you are a chronic tooth grinder, you probably already know some of the damage it can cause. The continuous force of that grinding can alter your bite and place a strain on your teeth. The resulting tension plays a role in how the teeth are impacted, sometimes causing them to become misaligned over time.
Genetics and natural aging – Even if you start out with a beautifully straight smile that has never needed orthodontics, you may notice your teeth naturally shifting as you grow older. This is a common occurrence, especially in the front teeth, which may be more susceptible to shifting under pressure as the enamel begins to wear thin.
Tooth loss – If you lose a tooth or multiple teeth due to decay or periodontal disease, the surrounding teeth may begin drifting towards that empty space. If left untreated, this can lead to a misaligned bite.
A reminder of why retainers are so important
When you’re aware of the various factors that can lead to a relapse, you begin to see why retainers are such an important part of long-lasting orthodontic success. As noted above, your teeth aren’t the only things we want to stay in place once the initial phase of treatment is complete. The gums and bones in your mouth will need to align to these new positions, too. Because the soft and hard tissues surrounding the teeth can sometimes take a little longer to align to a different position, wearing a retainer regularly can help the gums and bones to realign, further stabilizing your bite.
To put it a bit more simply, it helps to understand that teeth aren’t just fixed in the jaw. Each one is held in its socket by elastic ligaments that attach the roots to the bone. These ligaments are living tissue that are affected by the movement of the teeth, and this attachment is what allows for the small movements of the teeth during treatment. When tension is placed in and around the teeth using an orthodontic appliance like braces or aligners, new ligaments (and sometimes even bone) are formed.
Once the remodeling phase, or the first phase of treatment, is complete, those same tissues, ligaments, and bone will need time to stabilize. Without a retainer to help hold these new positions as they stabilize, the teeth will almost always migrate back to their old positions.
How we can treat an orthodontic relapse
If you’ve suffered a relapse due to not wearing your retainer or for other reasons, there’s no need to panic! We’re here to help. If you still have a retainer you’ve been wearing properly, and only minor shifting is present, we may be able to leave things as they are for the moment and just monitor your teeth for any further shifting. Minor movements of the teeth can also be corrected by having new retainers made. However, if the relapse is significant, we may recommend re-treatment for you. This could include traditional metal braces or Invisalign aligners. Fortunately, correcting a relapse often takes much less time than your original treatment.
At McGrory Orthodontics, we’re proud to offer the following options to patients looking to straighten their smile and improve their oral health.
Traditional metal braces
Metal braces are the most common type of orthodontic treatment. They’re also one of the most effective tools we have for correcting misaligned teeth. Composed of medical-grade alloys such as stainless steel and nickel, traditional braces are often used for treating both simple and complex tooth issues. They work relatively quickly at closing gaps and aligning teeth, and are also cost-effective since they don’t require some of the more complex technology or expensive equipment that newer treatments do.
Depending on when you had your original treatment, you may find that the newer braces are far more comfortable, subtle, and stylish than ever before. Their overall strength, durability, and affordability keep them at the top of our treatment list year after year!
The Invisalign clear aligner system
Invisalign uses a series of custom-made retainers, called aligners, to gradually straighten your teeth. These trays are completely clear, smooth, and removable. This allows for an extra measure of freedom and flexibility, as patients experience no irritation from wires or brackets, have no food restrictions, and can remove the aligners to eat, drink, and maintain their regular dental hygiene routine.
Invisalign works especially well for mild and moderate cases of the most common orthodontic issues, like those often experienced with relapses.
Get your smile back on track with McGrory Orthodontics
Whatever the reason for your relapse, we’ve got what it takes to get your smile back on track! Our talented team has years of experience, and we’re committed to providing the highest-quality orthodontic care to patients of all ages in Pearland, Bellaire, and the surrounding communities.
Touching up past orthodontic treatment will not only give you a smile you can be proud of, it will help ensure better oral health in the future. Even minor misalignments can make cleaning your teeth more difficult, increasing the risk for decay and gum disease. Call us today to schedule a consultation and let’s get started!