Did you have a perfect smile in high school or college after successfully completing orthodontic treatment? Does it still look the same today, or have your teeth begun drifting back towards their old positions? If you don’t love the smile you see in the mirror anymore, you’re not alone!
Here at Elm Tree Orthodontics, we see adult patients all the time who are experiencing what we call an orthodontic relapse. The smile they spent so much time straightening has begun to shift and they want to know if there’s anything we can do to get it back on track again.
Fortunately, there is! Dr. Desai has years of experience working with orthodontic patients of all ages, including adults who need touch-up treatment to correct a relapse. Let’s take a closer look at what can cause an orthodontic relapse, why you should treat them, and what we can do to give you a smile you can’t wait to show off again!
What is an orthodontic relapse?
The term “orthodontic relapse” is used to describe the tendency of the teeth to return to the original positions they were in prior to orthodontic treatment. Short-term relapse is one that happens less than one year after the completion of treatment. Long-term relapse occurs more than a year after finishing treatment.
Orthodontic relapse is a fairly common occurrence. Some studies estimate that more than 50% of patients will experience some level of relapse within 10 years of completing their treatment. This chance for relapse is one reason orthodontists have changed their approach to retainer wear in recent years. Many adults dealing with relapse were told when getting their braces off as teens that they could discontinue wearing their retainers after a year or two. Orthodontists now agree that retainers should actually be worn for life.
Don’t let that kind of commitment scare you away, though! In most cases, you’ll only need to wear your retainers at night after the first few months. This will be enough to stabilize your newly straightened smile and help keep your teeth in their optimal positions.
What causes an orthodontic relapse?
Not using a retainer as directed by an orthodontist is the most common reason for teeth shifting after orthodontic treatment. Many patients underestimate the importance of retainers, especially once a bit of time has passed, but the work doesn’t stop once your braces come off!
After the initial phase of treatment is complete, the teeth and surrounding bone and gums still need time to solidify in their new locations. Wearing your retainers as directed by your orthodontist will help protect your teeth from the forces trying to pull them back to their previous positions and assist with the stabilization effort over time.
While irregular retainer use is the biggest reason we see relapses, there can be other contributing factors for them as well. These include, but are not limited to:
Genetics and natural aging
Genetics can give you a beautiful smile to work with, but you still may experience some natural shifting of your teeth as you grow older. This is a common occurrence because, whether you had braces in the past or not, the back teeth tend to shift forward over time, reducing the amount of space available for the front teeth, which get crowded out of the arch alignment.
Chronic tooth grinders will already know the damage it can cause, but the continuous force places a strain on teeth that can alter the bite and result in misalignment.
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 misalignment of the teeth and the bite.
How is orthodontic relapse treated?
It can be upsetting to see your teeth shifting for any reason, but our expert Hamdem orthodontic team is here to help! There are generally a few different options when it comes to addressing an orthodontic relapse.
Monitoring the teeth
Even with the best retainer and complete compliance, you’re still likely to experience some very minor tooth movement over time. As we mentioned above, the bone and gums that support your teeth change as you age, and retainers can also become slightly distorted with wear.
If you’ve worn your retainer exactly as directed by Dr. Desai 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.
Creating new retainers
There are types of minor movements we’ll want to treat, and these cases can sometimes be corrected with a new or replacement retainer. If you’ve lost or broken your retainer, this will be one of the first things we do. In general, fixed retainers are good for maintaining the alignment of the lower teeth, while removable aligners will typically be recommended for the upper teeth.
If you’ve suffered a more significant relapse, we may recommend retreatment with braces or aligners. As an adult, you might balk at the idea of dealing with traditional braces again, but we’re able to offer a wide variety of treatment options to correct your relapse. These include discreet options like clear braces and Invisalign clear aligners.
What are the benefits of retreatment?
The thought of retreatment can feel overwhelming, but there are good reasons for addressing your orthodontic relapse! First and foremost is improved oral health. Crowded teeth create crevices where food particles can accumulate, leading to plaque and tartar buildup. Teeth that are properly spaced and aligned are easier to keep clean with a good dental hygiene routine.
Retreatment can also give you back the beautifully aligned smile you once had! This can help you feel more confident in your daily life, and improve your overall self-esteem. The good news is that correcting a relapse often takes much less time than your original treatment. Whether you choose braces or aligner treatment with Elm Tree Orthodontics to correct your orthodontic relapse, the results will be more than worth it when you recognize your smile in the mirror again.
Get your smile back on track with Elm Tree Orthodontics
Whatever the reason for your orthodontic relapse, we can recreate the smile you’ve been missing, and improve your oral health in the process. If you’re ready to take the first step towards reclaiming your beautiful smile, get in touch with us today to schedule a FREE consultation with Dr. Desai in our Hamden office! We can’t wait to help you love your smile again.