Did orthodontic treatment in your teens give you a picture perfect smile? Is that same smile still in place, or do you see something different when you look in the mirror today? If you’re a former orthodontic patient who has watched in dismay as your teeth drifted back towards their original positions, you’re not alone!
Here at Westfall Orthodontics, we regularly see adult patients who are experiencing an orthodontic relapse. After putting so much time into straightening their smile, the teeth have begun to shift, and they want to know how we can help them sort things out again.
Fortunately, Dr. Westfall is a board-certified orthodontist with the expertise needed to create beautiful, lasting smiles for patients of all ages! Let’s take a closer look at what an orthodontic relapse is, what can cause one, and how our expert team is able to correct them to give you a smile you can be confident in again.
What is an orthodontic relapse?
When teeth start moving towards their original positions in your mouth following successful orthodontic treatment, we refer to it as an orthodontic relapse. Short-term relapses occur less than one year after treatment has concluded, while long-term relapses happen a year or more after completing treatment.
It may not be a common topic, but orthodontic relapse is actually fairly common. In fact, some studies estimate that over half of all orthodontic patients will experience some level of relapse within 10 years of completing their treatment. This is one big reason orthodontists have changed their approach to retainer wear recently. Many former patients now experiencing a relapse were told they could discontinue regular retainer use a year or two post-treatment. However, most orthodontists now agree that retainers should be worn throughout a patient’s lifetime for the best results.
Don’t panic! We know that kind of commitment can seem scary the first time you hear it, but in most cases, you’ll only need to wear your retainer at night once the initial period of adjustment has passed. This will often be enough to keep your newly straightened teeth stabilized and holding strong in their current positions.
What can cause an orthodontic relapse?
There are quite a few factors that may be involved in an orthodontic relapse, but irregular retainer use is the most common. Unfortunately, some patients underestimate the importance of retainers, and don’t realize there’s still work to do even after the braces are removed or the last aligner is used!
After the initial phase of treatment is over, the teeth, bones, and gums will still need some time to settle into their new positions. Wearing a retainer on a regular basis protects teeth from the natural forces that work to pull them back to their previous places in your mouth. It also assists with further stabilization over time.
Some of the other contributing factors that can lead to an orthodontic relapse include:
– Genetics and aging
Genetics may give you a beautiful smile to begin with, but it’s still likely that you’ll experience some natural shifting of your teeth as you age. This is a common occurrence as we grow older, especially in the front teeth. These tend to be more susceptible to shifting under pressure due to the thinning enamel.
– Teeth grinding
If you’re a chronic tooth grinder, you’re probably already aware of some of the oral health issues it can cause. The continuous forces that come from grinding place a strain on the teeth that can alter the bite and eventually result in misalignment.
– Tooth loss
If you’ve lost one or more teeth due to trauma, decay, or periodontal disease, the teeth that surround 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 are orthodontic relapses treated?
There are generally a few different options for addressing an orthodontic relapse, including:
Most people will experience some natural minor tooth movement over time, as the bone and gums that support your teeth change with age. Retainers can also become slightly distorted with wear over time, which can reduce how effective they are.
If you’ve been careful to wear your retainer as directed and have experienced only minor shifting of your teeth, we can often leave things as they are for the time being and simply monitor your teeth for any further shifting.
– New retainers
There are certain types of minor movement that we will want to treat. These cases can often be corrected with a new or replacement retainer, so if your retainer has been lost or broken, 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 you’ve suffered a significant orthodontic relapse, Dr. Westfall may recommend retreatment with braces or aligners. If you’re not comfortable with traditional metal braces as an adult, our practice offers a wide variety of treatment options to correct your relapse, including clear braces and Invisalign clear aligners.
Are there benefits to retreatment?
We understand that the idea of retreatment can be daunting, but there are good reasons for addressing your orthodontic relapse! Improved oral health is a big one. Crowded teeth create nooks and crannies for food particles and bacteria to accumulate, so you’re more at risk for plaque and tartar buildup. When your teeth are properly spaced and aligned, it’s easier to keep clean with a good dental hygiene routine.
Retreatment will also lead to a more confident smile. This, in turn, can increase your self-esteem, something is helpful in multiple aspects of your life. Correcting a relapse often takes much less time than your original treatment, which is just one more reason to consider it! Whether you choose braces or aligner treatment to correct your orthodontic relapse, the results will be more than worth it to have a smile you can be proud of again.
Get your smile back on track with Westfall Orthodontics
Whatever the reason for your orthodontic relapse, Westfall Orthodontics has a talented team in place to help recreate the smile you once had. If you’re ready to take the first step towards reclaiming the beautifully straight smile you once had, get in touch with us today to schedule a FREE consultation!