Orthodontic treatment is a big investment of your time and your finances. So when your braces are finally removed or you use your last aligner, it’s worth celebrating! It’s an amazing feeling to look in the mirror and see how all your hard work and dedication has paid off in the form of a beautiful new smile. You leave your orthodontist’s office with every intention of wearing your new retainer exactly as directed, and you do…at first. Over time, however, it becomes easier and easier to forget about using it. You may find yourself falling asleep without putting it in a few nights in a row, and before you know it, you can’t even remember where it is!

You keep reminding yourself to call the orthodontist about getting the retainer replaced, but it gets pushed to the bottom of your to-do list until one day you notice something is a little bit off with your teeth. You may see it in a picture of you smiling, or catch a glimpse while brushing your teeth, but on closer inspection, you realize with dismay that your teeth have shifted. Does any of this sound familiar to you? If so, you’re not alone. Here at Hamer & Glassick Orthodontists, we care for many adult patients who are in need of a bit of touch-up treatment to correct a relapse like this.  

To learn more about what causes a relapse, and what our expert team can do to help correct it, keep reading below! 

Reasons for a relapse: beyond your retainer

Even though irregular retainer use isn’t always to blame for teeth shifting after orthodontic treatment, it is the most common reason. The unfortunate truth is that many patients underestimate the importance of retainers, especially once some time has passed. However, treatment doesn’t stop once the braces come off or the aligners run out. The teeth and surrounding bone and gums still need time to solidify in their new locations the initial phase of treatment is complete. By wearing a retainer as directed, you’ll protect your teeth from the forces that want to pull them back to their previous positions. This will help stabilize them over time. 

That said, there can be other reasons for an orthodontic relapse. These include, but are not limited to: 

Teeth grinding – If you are a tooth grinder, chances are you’re already aware of the damage it can cause. Chronic grinding produces a continuous force that can place a strain on your teeth and may even alter your bite. The resulting tension may cause teeth to become misaligned over time. 

Genetics and natural aging – Genetics may have given you a beautiful smile to start with, but you might have noticed your teeth shifting some as you grow older. This is a common occurrence, especially in the front teeth, which may be more susceptible to shifting under pressure due to the enamel wearing thin. 

Tooth loss – If you have lost a tooth or multiple teeth due to trauma, decay, or periodontal disease, the teeth surrounding the now empty space may begin to drift towards it. If left uncorrected, this can eventually lead to a misaligned bite. 

Woman with retainers

A reminder on why retainers are so important

Understanding more about the various factors that can lead to a relapse makes it easy to see why retainers are such an important part of lasting orthodontic success! As we briefly touched on 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. The tissues surrounding the teeth can take a little longer to align, but wearing a retainer regularly can help this process along, further stabilizing your bite.

In other words, the 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 the attachment is what allows for the small movements of the teeth during treatment. When we put tension on and around the teeth with braces or aligners, it allows new ligaments to form.

Once that first phase of treatment, sometimes referred to as the remodeling phase, is complete, those same tissues, ligaments, and bone will need some time to stabilize. Without regular retainer use, the teeth will be less stable, and will almost always shift back to their old positions.

How we treat orthodontic relapses

If your smile isn’t as straight as it used to be, we’re here to help! If you’ve been wearing your retainer properly and are experiencing only minor shifting, we may be able to simply monitor your teeth for the time being. In some cases, we may be able to correct these minor movements of the teeth by making a new retainer. However, if you are experiencing a significant relapse, we may recommend re-treatment. This comes with a silver lining, though: correcting a relapse often takes much less time than your original treatment did! At Hamer & Glassick Orthodontics, we offer a variety of treatment options to help improve your oral health and re-straighten your smile, from traditional metal braces to Invisalign clear aligners.

Get your straight smile back with Hamer & Glassick Orthodontics

Whatever the reason behind your relapse, our expert team can get your smile back on track again! We have years of experience providing the highest-quality orthodontic care to patients of all ages in Charlottesville and the surrounding communities. Our goal is to give you a stress-free orthodontic experience, whether you need a new retainer or a new set of braces.

Touching up or repeating your past orthodontic treatment with Hamer & Glassick Orthodontics will not only give you a smile you can be proud of. It will help ensure better oral health in the future, too! Even minor misalignments can make cleaning your teeth more difficult, increasing your risk of developing decay or gum disease. Call us today to schedule a FREE consultation and let’s get your smile back where it belongs!