Teeth shift after braces

Teeth Shift After Braces - Here’s Why It Happens & How to Prevent It

By Dr. Tyler Coles – Premier Orthodontics

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Most people get braces as a teenager. At some point during their adult years, their teeth shift.  So why do teeth shift after braces?  How do you prevent teeth from shifting?  How long will the teeth keep shifting after braces?

This article is devoted to breaking down these important questions and outlining exactly what everyone should know about teeth shifting after braces. That way you can keep your perfect smile long after the braces are removed.

Why Do Teeth Shift After Braces?

Guess what . . .  teeth never stop moving!  As long as you’re alive your teeth will always be in motion.  Think about your muscles. If you go to the gym you can make our muscles stronger and when you stop going to the gym the muscles weaken. As you age, muscles naturally get smaller and less strong. At no point in life do your muscles stay exactly where they are.

It’s the same with your teeth. They react to the forces placed on them.  Everything from pressure from your tongue, pressure from the gums, biting pressure and pressure from your cheeks can impact the position of your teeth.

When you’re in braces or Invisalign, teeth are safely moved into an ideal position. In other words, braces apply forces to the teeth that are stronger than all the other forces acting on them from your body. That’s how your orthodontist is able to determine the exact placement for perfectly straight teeth.

orthodontic tooth movement

But, as soon as the braces are removed or Invisalign is stopped, the teeth are at the mercy of your bodily forces again, primarily from your tongue, cheeks, biting muscles, and gums.

This is where retainers come into the picture. Retainers are placed after braces to counteract the forces that your body will naturally place on the teeth. These retainers are designed to prevent unwanted tooth movement and keep them in as close to the ideal position as possible.

How long will teeth shift after braces?

Unfortunately, teeth will never stop shifting. It’s just a fact of life. As long as you’re alive, your teeth will continue to react to the forces placed on them.  For some people, the teeth will find an equilibrium and stay in a good position even without a retainer.  

For others, unwanted tooth movement can occur if retainers aren’t used due to unequal forces placed on the teeth by either the tongue, cheeks, lips, bite, or the gums.  Anything from a tongue thrust, strong jaw muscles, or a forward tongue posture can impact the position of your teeth.

I stopped wearing my retainer and my teeth shifted. Why does this happen?

This is fairly common.  Most get braces as a teenager, and at some point in life stop wearing their retainers. The majority of people who stop wearing retainers will see some unwanted tooth movements.  For some the movement will be small, for others the teeth movement will be more obvious

It’s nearly impossible to know whose teeth will be relatively stable and whose will shift a lot.  That’s why orthodontists recommend everyone get a retainer and adhere to wearing their retainers for life to prevent any unwanted teeth shifting.

How fast do teeth shift after braces?

The first 3-6 months after braces are removed are the most unstable period for your teeth. Your gum fibers stretch while you are in braces.  Once they are removed , these fibers act like a rubber band and want to pull the teeth back to their original position.  This creates the potential for teeth to shift very rapidly.

gum fibers stretched

After 3-6 months, the gum fibers will remodel and the teeth will get more stable.  But that doesn’t stop other bodily forces from having a say about your  tooth position later in life.

Tongue pressure, lip pressure, cheek pressure, and biting forces can still move the teeth but these tend to occur over a long period of time and happen in small, incremental stages.  You may not notice these changes overnight, but gradually the teeth will move. Eventually the tooth position will be quite different from when the braces were removed.

My teeth shifted after braces even with my retainer. Why did this happen?

Some minor tooth movement is possible (and often expected) with good retainer wear. That’s because the retainer is trying to hold all 28 teeth in perfect position. As you can imagine, this is difficult and it’s possible for one or two teeth to lose their perfect position even with the retainer.

If some minor movement occurs, but overall the teeth still look good and are in a healthy position, you have nothing to worry about.

If major tooth movement occurs while wearing retainers, it is possible that the retainer was not a proper fit. If your retainer is permanent, you may find that you have a broken permanent retainer.

Broken Permanent Retainer Wire
Example of a broken perament retainer.

In some cases, the pressure exerted on the teeth by the tongue, bite, or lips may be so strong that even a retainer may not be able to fully keep them from moving.

There are so many factors involved with keeping teeth in their proper position, which is why it’s important to meet with your orthodontist about it rather than trying to guess why teeth are shifting. Practically speaking,  no one can expect teeth to remain 100% perfect for life, even with proper retainer wear. 

Our goal is to minimize movement as much as possible, and keep the teeth in a healthy position at the same time.

Can I wear my old retainer to shift my teeth back?

If you have stopped wearing your retainer for a short period of time (less than one month) and you notice some shifting, you can try to wear your retainer to see if your teeth will move back.

Do note that this doesn’t always work. If the teeth have minor movement and you’re able to get your retainer completely in position, there is a chance the retainer will move your teeth back into the correct position.

How long do you have to wear a retainer

However, if your teeth have moved too much, and if you aren’t able to get your retainer fully seated, you will most likely not be able to correct your shifting with your old retainer.

A retainer’s primary function is literally in the name. They are meant to “retain” teeth.  That means to hold them in position.  As a consequence, retainers are not very good at moving teeth.  If the tooth movement is very small they can work, but most retainers are ineffective for major tooth movements.

Can I wear my old retainer to shift my teeth back?

If your teeth have significant shifting after braces, you will have two options:

  1. Get a new retainer to hold your teeth in their current position and avoid further shifting.
  2. Get braces or Invisalign to move your teeth back into the proper position.

There are some cases where an “active retainer” can be made to help move your teeth back into position, but these are generally only effective with minor shifting.  Any major tooth movement will require some form of orthodontic treatment, such as braces or Invisalign, to get them back into their proper position.

Do wisdom teeth cause your teeth to shift after braces?

Wisdom teeth causing teeth to shift after braces may be a factor. But it’s one of many to consider. It’s difficult to say wisdom teeth if wisdom teeth on their own will significantly move teeth, because: 

  • People who are born without wisdom teeth still get teeth shifting.
  • People who have their wisdom teeth removed can still get teeth shifting.
Wisdom Teeth

Getting your wisdom teeth removed, if recommended by your dentist, is generally a good idea for the health of your teeth.  But, it most likely will not prevent shifting of your teeth. It is still recommended that everyone wears a retainer to prevent unwanted tooth movement, even if they’ve had their wisdom teeth removed.

How do I stop my teeth from shifting?

The best chance you have to prevent your teeth from shifting is to commit to wearing your retainers for life.  Our office recommends two months of full time retainer wear, followed by nightly wear of your retainers thereafter.

This is a lifetime commitment, which doesn’t always sound fun. But it is hands down the best way for you to protect your smile and keep your teeth in the proper position for life.

It’s also important to get new retainers periodically.  If your retainer stops fitting well or shows any signs of wear and tear, that’s a sure sign you need to get a replacement retainer.  For most individuals, replacing your retainer once a year is good practice.

Broken clear retainer
Example of a retainer that should be replaced

Even with good retainer wear, there still is a chance for minor tooth movement. This is sometimes unavoidable, but the goal is to do the best we can to maintain an esthetic and healthy smile for life!

Consultation for Braces in Phoenix, Chandler, Maricopa, and Casa Grande

Premier Orthodontics has 6 locations  providing braces and Invisalign in Phoenix, Chandler, Gilbert, Maricopa, Casa Grande, and Glendale as well as the surrounding areas. 

Schedule your free consultation for braces or read our comprehensive guide to the cost of braces . (We are very transparent about our process and our pricing, as you’ll see in this guide.)

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