How Your Retainer Prevents Teeth Shifting After Braces or Invisalign

Once you have that stellar Gardner grin, it might seem like your orthodontic treatment is over. However, there are actually several stages of braces and Invisalign treatment, including the planning stage, the active stage and, finally, the retention stage.

Without the retention stage, which is when you wear a dental retainer (or retainers), you would experience shifting teeth and, eventually, you could need another round of orthodontic treatment. Wearing a retainer is the only way to maintain your braces or Invisalign results and lock your new smile in place so that it lasts a lifetime. 

The Science Behind Teeth Shifting After Braces or Invisalign

During the active phase of orthodontic treatment, your braces or clear aligners exert continuous, gentle pressure. This stimulates the natural process of bone remodeling. The teeth-supporting bone and tissues break down and the periodontal ligaments loosen, allowing your pearly whites to move in the directions we want them to go. Don’t worry, the process is painless! 

When your braces are removed, or you take out your final set of Invisalign aligners, the pressure is no longer there. It takes time for new bone and tissue to form and the ligaments to tighten back up in order to secure the teeth in their new positions. Before this happens, the teeth have a natural tendency to move back towards their old places. 

When Do Teeth Stop Moving?

So, when do teeth stop moving? Do teeth continue to move after the age of 35? 45? Unfortunately, shifting teeth can strike at any age. If you had orthodontic treatment, teeth shifting can be more drastic if you don’t wear a retainer, particularly in the months following your treatment.

This is because the teeth want to revert back to their original positions. Even if you never had braces, Invisalign or Invisalign Teen, or you wore your retainer for a few years and then stopped using it, the teeth can continue to move after the age of 35 and beyond. 

Studies suggest that there are natural age-related changes to the jaw and soft tissues that occur throughout our lives. While the most dramatic facial and jaw growth happens during childhood, it continues on a smaller scale in adulthood. Many people experience a natural deepening of the bite, as well as worsening crowding as they get older. 

This is why Dr. Gardner, Dr. Tang and Dr. La Rochelle perform extensive treatment planning using high-tech diagnostic tools and cutting-edge orthodontic software before you start braces or Invisalign. They move the teeth into their ideal positions on a 3D model of your mouth and create a smile that complements your lips and face. They also account for how your face shape will change as you age, so that you always look and feel your best.

Aside from teeth shifting due to natural age-related changes or not wearing a retainer, teeth can continue to move as an adult due to:

Missing Teeth

If a permanent tooth is knocked out or extracted and not replaced, the teeth surrounding the gap will drift into the empty space. This can cause crowding, which is why it’s important to consider your teeth replacement options, such as a dental implant or dental bridge, soon after losing a tooth. This will stop the remaining teeth from shifting. 

Gum Disease

If not treated, gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease, can advance into periodontitis. Periodontitis, the more severe type of gum disease, may cause the loss of teeth-supporting bone. The bone loss then results in loose and shifting teeth and, in extreme cases, tooth loss. 

As soon as you notice signs of gum disease like red, swollen gums, bleeding gums when brushing or flossing, gums that feel tender, bad breath and loose teeth, schedule a visit with your dentist. Gingivitis can be reversed with proper care. While periodontitis can’t be reversed, it can be managed to ward off further bone loss and teeth shifting. 

Teeth Grinding and Clenching

 Teeth grinding, technically known as bruxism, puts undue pressure on the teeth and gums and causes excessive wear of the enamel. As teeth are damaged, they can become shorter and changes in your bite, as well as teeth shifting, might occur. If you suspect you’re grinding or clenching your teeth, a custom oral appliance that’s worn at night may be needed to provide protection. 

How an Orthodontic Retainer Prevents Teeth Shifting

So, the bad news is that the teeth can continue to move in your 30s, 40s and even in your senior years. The good news is that this is easily prevented by wearing a dental retainer after braces or Invisalign, as well practicing good oral hygiene and seeking treatment for issues like bruxism and gum disease. 

A retainer is an orthodontic appliance that’s custom-made for you. It holds the teeth in place while that new bone we talked about forms and those ligaments snap back to how they were prior to treatment.

Your retainer is designed based on the position of your teeth when you finish treatment, and it retains them exactly as they are and doesn’t allow them to drift. Most patients can benefit from using their retainer for the rest of their lives though, eventually, you’ll likely only need to wear it a few nights a week. 

If you didn’t have orthodontic treatment as a child or teen, but your bite is healthy and your teeth are relatively straight, a retainer could help stop teeth shifting.

In some cases, an orthodontist can create a retainer for you to wear to keep your teeth in their current positions. In other cases, if shifting teeth have led to unwanted changes in your bite and smile, braces or Invisalign treatment, followed by a retainer, can help you reclaim and maintain your straight teeth.

The Different Types of Retainers

There are a number of different types of dental retainers. The most common are:

Permanent Retainers

A permanent retainer, sometimes referred to as a bonded retainer or lingual retainer, consists of a metal wire that’s cemented to the back of your teeth. It can’t be seen at all when you smile. As the name suggests, a permanent retainer is, well, permanent and stays in place until it’s removed. 

Hawley Retainers

A Hawley retainer is probably what comes to mind when you hear the word “retainer.” This type of dental retainer is comprised of an acrylic piece that sits against the roof or bottom of your mouth, depending on whether it’s an upper or lower retainer, and a thin wire that wraps around the teeth to hold them in position. Hawley retainers are removable. 

Essix Retainers (Clear Retainers)

An Essix-type retainer is a removable, clear retainer made from a thermoplastic material that fits over your teeth like a mouthguard. Patients sometimes call clear retainers Invisalign retainers because they’re very similar to Invisalign aligners.

In fact, the makers of Invisalign do make a clear, plastic retainer called a Vivera® retainer. Clear retainers are by far the most popular option with our Richmond Invisalign and braces patients because they’re comfortable and virtually invisible. 

Retainer Instructions

When you finish your braces or Invisalign treatment, Dr. Gardner, Dr. Tang or Dr. La Rochelle will provide you with specific retainer instructions to ensure you’re able to prevent shifting teeth and keep your smile looking fantastic. However, in the meantime, to give you a better idea of what wearing and caring for a retainer entails, here are some general retainer instructions:

  • If you have a removable retainer, or retainers, wear them according to the specific schedule you were given by Dr. Gardner, Dr. Tang and Dr. La Rochelle. 
  • We’ll show you how to put on retainers. To put in a clear retainer, make sure your teeth are clean, open your mouth and position the retainer with the opening facing the chewing surfaces of the top or bottom teeth, depending on whether it’s a top or bottom retainer. Push the retainer over the teeth so that it covers the entire dental arch. Bite down to make sure it’s completely in place. 

To put in a Hawley retainer, open your mouth and position the retainer so that the top of the acrylic piece is facing the roof or bottom of your mouth and the wire is in front of your teeth. Gently push it into your mouth so that the wire wraps around the teeth and the acrylic is sitting against the top or bottom of the mouth. 

  • If you have a permanent retainer, make sure to be diligent about brushing around it and flossing under the wire since the wire can trap food and plaque. 
  • Clean your retainers at least once daily. Wondering how to clean retainers? Well, to clean a clear retainer or Hawley retainer, the easiest, most affordable solution is to simply brush the retainer with a soft-bristled toothbrush and rinse it with lukewarm water before putting it in your mouth. If your retainer needs some stronger cleaning power, brush it with a mild, unscented, clear dishwashing soap. You may also want to clean your retainer prior to storing it in its case to prevent bacterial growth and a bad smell. 

You can deep clean retainers once a week or so if you find it necessary. Use a retainer cleaner or a DIY solution made by mixing one part water with one part distilled white vinegar. Soak the retainer for 15 minutes and then rinse it off. 

  • Always keep your removable retainer in its retainer case when you’re not wearing it. Pets love chewing on retainers and leaving your retainer on a napkin or tissue while you eat is a surefire way to accidentally throw it away. 
  • Never store your retainer in a hot car or wash it in hot water, especially if you have a clear, plastic retainer. Extreme heat can warp the retainer and affect its fit. 
  • Take your retainer out before eating or drinking anything aside from plain water. Clear retainers fit snug against the teeth and any food or liquid can get trapped under them and sit on the teeth for a prolonged period, increasing your risk of tooth decay and staining. Hawley retainers may get damaged if you chew with them in your mouth. It’s a good idea to thoroughly rinse your retainer with water after eating and before putting it back in.
  • Bring your retainer with you to any check-ups at our office.
  • If your Hawley retainer or plastic retainer gets damaged or you feel as if it needs to be adjusted, don’t try to adjust it yourself. Call our office and we’ll take care of it for you so that it can continue to hold your teeth in place. If your permanent retainer breaks or comes loose, contact us right away so that we can repair it. 
  • A question we get a lot is, should you wear your retainer if it doesn’t fit? While, yes, retainers are supposed to be tight at first, they shouldn’t be painful, and any tenderness and sensitivity will subside once you get used to wearing them. If you forget to wear your retainer for a few days, it will once again feel tight. If you can get it in without forcing it, then wearing it is fine and discomfort will go away when the teeth are back in place. 

You should not wear a retainer if it doesn’t fit if it requires force to get it in. This can damage your enamel. Instead, give our Richmond orthodontics office a call and we’ll determine if it needs to be adjusted or you need a new retainer. 

As you can see, wearing a retainer and caring for it properly will prevent teeth shifting after braces or Invisalign treatment. If you think you need a new retainer or you’d like to learn more about your options for braces or Invisalign in Richmond, Virginia, schedule a complimentary consultation at Gardner Orthodontics today! 

Gardner & La Rochelle Orthodontics in Richmond, VA