Choosing orthodontic treatment is a big decision, and one of the most important investments you can make in your oral health. Seeing all your hard work and dedication pay off in the form of a beautiful smile is an incredible feeling, and once your treatment is complete, you have every intention of wearing your retainer exactly as directed. And you do! At first, anyway. Over time, however, it becomes easier and easier to fall asleep without putting it in. You may even forget where it is!
You know you need to replace your lost retainer so you can get back into the habit of wearing it regularly again. You keep reminding yourself to call the orthodontist and schedule an appointment, but life gets in the way until one day, you notice something looks a little bit off with your smile. Upon closer inspection, you see to your dismay that your teeth have shifted! That straight smile you worked so hard for isn’t quite as straight as it used to be. What happens now?
If this scenario sounds familiar, you definitely aren’t alone. Here at Petrunic Orthodontics, we see many adult patients in this same situation, asking what we can do to help make things right again. The good news is, Dr. Petrunic is experienced in providing touch-up treatments for adults suffering an orthodontic relapse. If you’ve been putting off seeing an orthodontist to get your smile back on track, now’s the perfect time to reclaim it!
Keep reading below to learn more about what an orthodontic relapse actually is, what can cause it, and what Petrunic Orthodontics can do to help you feel confident in your smile again.
What is an orthodontic relapse?
When we talk about orthodontic relapses, we’re describing the tendency teeth have to return to their original positions after successful orthodontic treatment. Patients may experience a short-term relapse, which occurs less than one year after treatment has concluded, or a long-term relapse, which happens a year or more after treatment is complete.
Even if you’ve never heard of it, orthodontic relapse is actually relatively common. In fact, some studies have found that about half of all orthodontic patients will experience some levels of relapse within 10 years of completing their treatment! This is one reason orthodontists have changed their thoughts on how retainers fit in with long-term orthodontic success. Many former patients were told for years that they could discontinue wearing their retainer once enough time had passed post-treatment, but most orthodontists now agree that retainers should be for life.
While some patients balk at that kind of commitment, it’s not as scary as it sounds at first! In the majority of cases, you’ll only need to wear your retainer at night after a period of adjustment has passed. This will often be all that is required to keep your newly straightened teeth stabilized and held in their current positions.
What causes an orthodontic relapse?
Many different factors can be involved with an orthodontic relapse. However, irregular retainer use is the most frequent reason we see for the teeth shifting after orthodontic treatment has been completed. Unfortunately, many patients underestimate how truly important retainers are. The truth is, there’s still work to do even after the braces are removed or the last aligner used!
Once the initial phase of treatment is complete, the teeth and surrounding bone and gums still need a bit of time in order to solidify in their new locations. When you wear your retainer as directed, it helps to protect your teeth from their natural inclination to drift back to their prior positions. It will also assist with further stabilization.
Some of the other factors that can contribute to an orthodontic relapse may include:
If you’ve lost one or more teeth due to trauma, decay, or periodontal disease, the teeth surrounding that empty space will often begin to drift towards it over time. If left uncorrected, it can eventually lead to a misaligned bite.
Are you a chronic tooth grinder? If so, you’re probably already well aware of some of the problems it can cause. The continuous force places a strain on teeth that can alter the bite and eventually result in misalignment.
Genetics and natural aging
Genetics may have given you a beautiful smile to start with, but you’ll probably still experience some natural shifting of your teeth 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?
There are generally a few different options we will recommend when addressing an orthodontic relapse.
As we briefly mentioned above, most people will experience some natural minor tooth movement as they grow older. The bone and gums that support your teeth change as you age, which causes some slight drifting. Retainers can also become slightly distorted with wear, making them less effective over time.
If you’ve always worn your retainer as directed and have only noticed some minor shifting of your teeth, we’re often able to just leave things as they are for the time being along with monitoring your teeth for any further movement.
Creating new retainers
There are some cases of minor movement that we’ll want to treat. These can often be corrected with a new or replacement retainer, so if you’ve lost or broken yours, this will be one of the first things we do. Generally speaking, fixed retainers are good for maintaining the alignment of the lower teeth, while removable aligners will typically be recommended for the upper teeth.
Once Dr. Petrunic has examined your mouth, he may find that your orthodontic relapse is significant enough to warrant retreatment with braces or aligners. As an adult, you may not want to deal with traditional braces again! Fortunately, our practice offers a wide variety of treatment options to correct your relapse. This includes discreet options like clear braces and clear aligners.
Fall in love with your smile again at Petrunic Orthodontics
Whatever the underlying reason for your orthodontic relapse, our expert team will be able to recreate the smile you once had. We can improve your oral health in the process, too! If you’re ready to get your smile back on track, we encourage you to get in touch with us today for a FREE consultation, or click here to schedule one online.