Successful orthodontic treatment leaves you with a beaming smile and aligned bite, but that doesn’t mean it will always stay that way. You must actively work on maintaining your results to keep your smile straight and healthy for a lifetime.

Why Do Teeth Move Back? The art of orthodontics is only possible because teeth can be moved. This also means that once your treatment has been completed, your teeth can shift back into their original position, which happens for a number of reasons.

The tissue around the teeth can shift them back into their former position after the pressure from braces or aligners has been released. Also the tongue and cheeks can have an effect on your smile depending on how much force they are placing on the teeth.

The Role of Removable Retainers. After you get your braces off, you should expect to wear some sort of retainer. For the first few weeks, your orthodontist will likely ask that you wear your retainer both day and night, only taking it out to eat, drink, and clean your teeth/retainer.

After this initial stabilization period, you’ll still need to wear your retainer consistently but probably only while sleeping. I have many patients ask me how long they’ll need to sleep wearing their retainer, and my response is always “for as long as you want to have straight teeth.” If you stop wearing your retainer, there’s always the chance that your teeth will shift.

Permanent Retainers. Sometimes a permanent retainer is needed to keep teeth in position. These are affixed to the backs of teeth with small brackets and wires. They’re often used on the four lower front teeth. While you don’t have to worry about taking these in and out, like braces, they require a little extra maintenance.

Permanent retainers can break or be popped off with overly crunchy, sticky, or chewy foods. I suggest that patients follow the same food restriction guidelines as braces to avoid issues with their permanent retainer. Also, flossing between these teeth requires a little extra time and care. You will need to use a floss threader or a waterpik to clean debris from teeth.

If your permanent retainer breaks or comes off completely, it’s very important to see your orthodontist as soon as possible. Your teeth can start shifting as soon as it breaks, and within a matter of weeks multiple teeth could move out of alignment.

Keeping Your Smile Healthy. Lastly, I want to address oral hygiene. It would be a shame to invest in a straight smile just to neglect your oral health. It’s important to brush your teeth for two minutes twice a day and floss at least once a day to keep bacteria at bay. Unchecked bacteria leads to cavities, tooth decay, periodontal disease, and even tooth loss.

But there’s no need to worry. As long as you wear your retainer and take good care of your teeth, your smile should stay bright and beaming for life!