The human body is in constant flux. Your lungs never stop inhaling and exhaling for as long as you live. Your heart is always beating. At this very moment while your digestive system breaks down your last meal, your hair grows just a tiny bit longer and new skin cells are being generated. If you look at the big picture, your eyes, muscles, and even your memory are always changing as the years pass.
Is it any wonder that in this system of ongoing change, your teeth are in flux too?
The reality is that even after orthodontic treatment is complete, your teeth are still likely to move. Why does this happen? There are a few ways to think about it:
- Ligaments aren’t fixed – The name of the connector that attaches each tooth to a jaw bone is the periodontal ligament. Ligaments aren’t hard like bones. Instead, they are elastic. These ligaments are why orthodontic treatments can move teeth to begin with, and why they can move after treatment.
- Nothing is holding the teeth in place – When you have braces or a retainer on your teeth, the appliance is preventing your teeth from going where they might go on their own. But once any external structures are removed, your teeth are free to follow their own paths.
- Various forces act on the teeth – You’re constantly using your mouth, and whenever you bite down, you’re putting a bit of pressure on your teeth. Your tongue and talking and chomping on an apple all generate forces, however small. Over time, these forces can cause your teeth to move.
- Mouth memory lasts a long time – Those periodontic ligaments and other structures that hold the teeth in place “remember” in a sense where they once were. When the braces come off, your teeth may seek to make their way home.
- Changes in the mouth reset the balance – Suppose you lose a tooth or have one extracted. Your other teeth are going to notice they have room to move and may drift over into the gap. Not all changes to your mouth are as dramatic as a lost tooth, but growth and age-related changes to your mouth will also change how your teeth relate to one another.
If you are currently undergoing or have recently finished orthodontic treatment, this news that your new smile won’t stay straight forever may be disconcerting. But even if your teeth do move somewhat, you will still have a much straighter smile that you did before treatment began. And use any concerns you have to be a motivator to wear your retainers.
The most important time to wear your retainer is the months just after treatment. Wearing them during this period will allow your teeth to settle into their new positions and give time for your jaw bones to solidify around them. As a result, the shifting of your teeth won’t be that extreme. And you should continue to wear a retainer once or twice a week while sleeping for the rest of your life. Ask us for specific recommendations.
Remember, even with a retainer, your teeth still may shift a little for all the reasons listed above. But a retainer will serve to minimize shifting and let your smile shine for a lifetime.