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LAST UPDATED: JANUARY 24, 2017
This is a very common question we receive when patients come in for a consultation. Most of the time, they are a young adult who had braces as a child, did not wear a retainer for a while, and have had some teeth shifting.
So can retainers correct tooth shifting? That completely depends on the amount of shifting and which teeth have moved. In our experience, the most likely answer is no.
Why? Because retainers don’t allow for precise control and predictable tooth movements, thus they are often an incomplete solution. We feel that in order to correct shifting and get the teeth and smile back where they belong, that usually requires either braces or clear aligners like Invisalign.
If you’d like to know more about braces or clear aligners, see this information below:
How do braces and aligners work?
If the teeth are significantly misaligned, orthodontic specialists can use braces to gradually shift the patient’s teeth in the desired direction over an extended period of time. Braces are placed in specific spots on the teeth that are customized for the patient. These devices may be removable or fixed, depending on the specific needs of the patient. Braces and the wires that go with them will cause the bone, muscle, and gum structure of the patient’s jaw to change over time, and as a result, they will require frequent adjustment to compensate for these changes. During treatment, visits every 6-8 weeks to the orthodontist are common. They will adjust the bands, springs or wires of the braces, and will check to make sure that the process is working as intended.
Invisalign clear aligners are an alternative to traditional braces. Made of a medical grade transparent plastic, they are custom-fitted to the individual patient and are a much more cosmetic option than braces. Patients will receive a series of aligners, and change them every week throughout treatment.
How does a retainer work?
Following the successful straightening of the teeth, your orthodontist will remove the braces or aligners and thoroughly clean the teeth. At this time, the decision to take a fresh set of x-rays and impressions to make sure that the original condition has been corrected. They will also check to see if the patient is developing wisdom teeth, as these may put unexpected pressure on the newly straightened teeth. In most instances, any developing wisdom teeth will be removed.
The patient will be provided with a custom-made retainer which must be worn to prevent the teeth from shifting back to their original, flawed positions. Some retainers are removable, and some are not. Most often, a retainer must be worn continuously for a period of 6 months or more following the removal of the aligners or braces. These can be required overnight for a longer period of time. In many cases, retainers are necessary while sleeping for many years following the removal of braces.
Why do teeth shift after braces?
To some extent, the success and longevity of the entire process depend’s on how well the patient follows the instructions of his or her dental health professional. Understandably, many patients are excited to finally have their braces removed and are eager to show off their new smile. As a result, they may decline to wear their retainer as instructed, and this could result in the teeth beginning to shift back into an abnormal position. The time immediately following the removal of the braces is the most critical time of all. This is when the bone has not completely hardened into its new shape and is why a retainer is such a critical part of the process. All too often, years of effort and expense are wasted by an improper follow-up to the straightening procedure.
Can a retainer correct this shift?
In theory, it may be possible for a retainer alone to correct this shift. In fact, retainers are occasionally used without braces to straighten teeth with a small degree of irregularity. But in order for retainers to do their job without causing damage to the teeth, they must fit perfectly, as they did when the braces were first removed. Unlike braces, retainers cannot be adjusted. By the time a patient who has had their braces removed notices a shift in the position of their teeth it is usually too late. At that point, wearing the retainer may, in fact, prove uncomfortable at best. In the worst cases, it will cause damage to the patient’s teeth.
Even if the patient is able to wear the retainer without any discomfort, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the teeth will be restored to their corrected position by the retainer alone. Damage to teeth in the process is inevitable. The only person qualified to make this determination is a qualified orthodontist.
Choosing a specialist
When choosing a provider for your smile and bite concerns, orthodontists are dental specialists in correcting misaligned and irregular teeth. Drs. Joel and Jono Gluck are board-certified orthodontists with over 40 combined years of experience perfecting smiles. Additionally, they are Invisalign Diamond providers placing them in the top 200 of all Invisalign providers in the United States.
To find out more or to discuss your dental care options, make an appointment. You can call (615) 269-5903 or schedule an appointment with Gluck Orthodontics today!
Can Retainers Fix a Slight Shift of Teeth After Braces?
Dr. Joel Gluck has practiced orthodontics since 1983 when he opened his own office in Nashville. He earned his undergraduate degree at Washington University in St. Louis, and his dental degree at the University of Tennessee. Dr. Gluck then completed an orthodontic specialty residency at the University of Michigan, one of the top five orthodontic training residencies in the country. He also wrote an original thesis and received a Master of Science degree.