Did you have a perfect smile once upon a time, thanks to orthodontic treatment? Do you still see that same smile in their mirror today, or have your teeth begun drifting back to where they used to be? Here at Christian Manley Orthodontics, we see a number of adult patients who are experiencing what we call an orthodontic relapse. The smile they put so much hard work into straightening years ago has begun to shift, and they want to know what they can do to get it back on track again. Let’s take a closer look at what can an orthodontic relapse is, what can cause one, and how we’re able to correct them in order to give you a smile you can be proud of again!
What is an orthodontic relapse?
This is the term we use to describe the way teeth tend to return to their original positions after orthodontic treatment. There are short-term relapses that occur less than one year after treatment has concluded, and long-term relapses that happen a year or more after finishing treatment.
Orthodontic relapse is relatively common, with some studies estimating that over half of all orthodontic patients will experience some level of it within 10 years of completing their treatment. This is actually one reason orthodontists have changed their approach to retainer wear in recent years. Many former patients were told as teens that they could discontinue wearing their retainer a year or two post-treatment, but most orthodontists now agree that retainers should actually be for life.
If that kind of commitment seems scary, don’t worry! In most cases, you’ll only need to wear your retainer at night after a period of adjustment has passed. This will usually be enough to keep your newly straightened teeth stabilized and held in their current positions.
What causes an orthodontic relapse?
There are many factors that can be involved in an orthodontic relapse, but irregular retainer use is the most common reason we see for teeth shifting after orthodontic treatment has been completed. It’s easy for patients to underestimate the true importance of retainers, but there’s still work to be done even after the braces are removed or the last aligner is used.
Once the initial phase of treatment is complete, the teeth and surrounding bone and gums will still need some time to solidify in their new locations. Wearing a retainer as directed helps to protect the teeth from the natural forces that keep trying to pull them back to their previous positions in your mouth, and assists with further stabilization.
Some other contributing factors to an orthodontic relapse can include:
Chronic tooth grinders will already know about some of the damage it can cause. The continuous forces place a strain on teeth that can alter the bite and eventually result in misalignment.
Genetics and natural aging
Even if genetics gives you a beautiful smile to work with, it’s likely you’ll 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.
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 this is left uncorrected, it can eventually lead to a misaligned bite.
How can orthodontic relapses be treated?
When it comes to addressing an orthodontic relapse, there are generally a few different options.
Keeping an eye on the teeth
As we mentioned above, most people will experience some natural minor tooth movement over time. The bone and gums that support your teeth change as you age, causing some slight drifting, and retainers can also become slightly distorted with wear, making them less effective over time.
If you’ve worn your retainer exactly as directed and there has only been minor shifting of your teeth, we’re often able to leave things as they are for the time being and just monitor your teeth for any further shifting.
Fabricating new retainers
We will sometimes want to treat certain types of minor movement. These cases can often be corrected with a new or replacement retainer, so if you’ve lost or broken your retainer, 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.
If we discover that you’ve suffered a significant orthodontic relapse, we may recommend retreatment with braces or aligners. As an adult, you might not be a fan of dealing with traditional braces again! Thankfully, our practice offers a wide variety of treatment options to correct your relapse. This includes discreet options like Damon clear braces and Invisalign clear aligners.
What are the benefits of retreatment?
Although the idea of retreatment can be daunting, there are several good reasons for addressing your orthodontic relapse. Improved oral health is a big one! Because crowded teeth create nooks and crannies where food particles and bacteria can accumulate, you’re more at risk for plaque and tartar buildup. Teeth that are properly spaced and aligned are easier to keep clean with a good dental hygiene routine, giving you healthier teeth and gums overall.
Retreatment can also give you back a more confident smile, increasing your self-esteem, which can be helpful in other aspects of your life, too! Luckily, correcting a relapse often takes much less time than your original treatment. Whether you choose braces or aligner treatment to correct your orthodontic relapse, the results will be more than worth it to have a beautiful smile you recognize in the mirror again.
Find your best smile again with Christian Manley Orthodontics
Whatever the reason for your orthodontic relapse, our expert team is able to recreate the smile you once had, and improve your oral health in the process, too. If you’re ready to take the first step towards getting your smile back on track, get in touch with us today to schedule a FREE consultation, or click here for a Virtual Smile Consultation!