Picture it: you’re in high school posing for your yearbook photos with beautiful, white, perfectly aligned teeth, thanks to a couple of years of braces. It’s a proud moment because you’re confident about your smile.
Time passes, and you start getting lax on wearing your retainer. Then one day while in college, you bite into a Snickers bar and that fixed retainer keeping your lower front teeth in their proper place is stuck to your candy bar when you set down beside the anatomy textbook you’re reading.
Rather than try to get an appointment with your orthodontist (who happens to be two states away) for a replacement, you go without.
Then there’s graduation. A new job. Life happens. You get married, have kids, and now you’re taking the oldest to the orthodontist for an evaluation. It dawns on you: Your teeth don’t look as great as they did in that high school yearbook photo. Those two front teeth slightly cross each other once again, though not as badly as they did before braces. Your lower teeth are pretty crowded.
What happened? You have a case of orthodontic relapse. This is the term used to describe the teeth’s tendency return to their original positions prior to orthodontic treatment.
The chance for relapse is why orthodontists have changed their approach to retainer wear over the years. If you’re an adult whose teeth have relapsed, you might have been told after getting your braces off as a teenager that you could discontinue retainer wear after a year or two.
These days, we tell our patients that retainers are for life. We recommend that you wear your retainers at night, or at least pop them in a couple of times a week. If you feel pressure when you wear your retainer, that’s a sign that your teeth have shifted slightly. Wear your retainer nightly for a few nights and chances are that pressure will go away as your teeth are pushed back into alignment.
Although relapse can occur when you’ve lost or broken your retainers, there are other contributing factors. Growth, the duration of treatment, the type of treatment and whether extraction was involved, length of retention, and the type of retention appliances used all play a role.
We define short-term relapse as relapse that happens less than one year following completion of orthodontic treatment. It can be caused by elastic fibers in your gums stretching and pulling your teeth back to their original placement. Wearing your retainers is vital to helping prevent short-term relapse.
Long-term relapse occurs more than one year after you’ve completed orthodontic treatment, and it can happen when you undergo significant physiological changes. Factors such as weight loss or gain, and aging can cause teeth to shift.
Regardless of the cause, relapse is prevalent. Ten years following completion of orthodontic treatment, 30 to 50 percent of orthodontic patients effectively retain the satisfactory alignment initially obtained, according to a Cochrane Oral Health Group article. After 20 years, satisfactory alignment is reduced to 10 percent.
Addressing Orthodontic Relapse
For all you parents thinking of the wonder years when your smile was adorned with perfectly aligned teeth, worry not. We treat adults almost as often as adolescents here at Orthodontics Only.
There are three options when it comes to addressing relapse.
Extremely minor teeth movement can’t be avoided, even with the best retainers and the most compliant patients. The bone and gums that support your teeth change as you age, and retainers can become slightly distorted with wear.
If you’ve worn your retainers as prescribed and there has been only minor movement, I may recommend that we simply monitor your teeth over the coming months to identify whether future treatment would be recommended.
2. Fabricate new retainers
Minor teeth movement sometimes can be corrected with replacement retainers. If you’ve lost or broken your retainers, replacing them immediately is a good idea.
Fixed retainers are a great option for maintaining alignment of the lower teeth, which are prone to relapse.
Removable aligners typically are recommended for upper teeth.
There are occasions when relapse is significant enough that another round of orthodontic treatment is required to correct it.
As an adult, you might balk at this notion because the idea of having metal “train track” braces as a grownup is unappealing. Luckily, there are some highly aesthetic options available. They include ceramic brackets and Invisalign.
Invisalign tends to be attractive to adults because the clear plastic aligners are virtually invisible when worn. They are removed when eating or drinking, so you don’t have any dietary restrictions, unlike traditional braces. You also can practice your normal dental hygiene routine, since the aligners are removable.
Benefits for Retreatment
Perhaps the thought of retreatment is daunting. There are some good reasons for addressing your orthodontic relapse that I invite you consider.
1. Improved confidence and self-esteem
Just as a beautifully aligned smile improves confidence in children, the same can be said for adults. Feeling confident has benefits in your professional life, too.
2. Improved oral health
Teeth that are properly spaced and aligned are easier to keep clean with brushing and flossing. Crowded teeth create crevices in which food particles can accumulate and lead to plaque and tartar buildup.
3. Family discounts
We offer discounts to patients when more than one member of your family receives treatment. We also offer a variety of payment plans to meet your needs. You are eligible for a discount when you make payment in full at the start of treatment, and we offer interest-free financing with low monthly payments and a low down payment.
Please call our office today if you would like to schedule a consultation to determine if your relapse is significant enough to benefit from new retainers or retreatment.