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Relapse & Retainers: What You Need to Know

Posted March 31, 2014

Congratulations, your braces are off!  It’s a thrilling time in every orthodontic patient’s life. You may be free to munch on popcorn and crunch into apples, but your orthodontic experience isn’t over just yet. When our job is done, your job begins.

How diligently you wear your retainer will ultimately determine the final results of treatment. Oral tissues and bones need time to reorganize and stabilize once treatment with braces or Invisalign is complete. Moving teeth into ideal alignment is a dramatic adjustment for your mouth, so retainers help “retain” what orthodontics has accomplished.

“When teeth begin to move out of alignment following treatment, it’s known as orthodontic relapse,” says Dr. Mark Bronsky, an orthodontist in New York City. “Sadly, a patient’s failure to properly wear his or her retainer is the common cause of relapse.”

It’s true- years of attending orthodontic appointments and the investment in your smile will be wasted if you don’t wear your retainer as instructed by Dr. Bronsky. The period immediately following treatment is especially crucial to retaining the work of braces or Invisalign. It usually takes about one year for teeth to stabilize in their new positions.  Faithful retainer use is imperative to this process.

Unfortunately, you’re not in the clear after a year has passed. The threat of relapse is always present. There are many forces that promote relapse years after orthodontic treatment is complete. These include:

  • Genetics
  • Age
  • Tooth grinding
  • Bad oral habits

“The lower front teeth are most susceptible to post-orthodontic shifting,” Dr. Bronsky says. “In many cases, we bond a small, lightweight permanent retainer onto the back of those teeth to keep them in place.”

Consistent retainer use will help combat the forces that contribute to relapse and preserve your beautifully aligned smile. Every patient’s orthodontic situation varies, but we instruct most patients to wear their retainers full time for the first year and then nightly. Eventually, you may only need to wear them once or twice a week. Dr. Bronsky prescribes transparent “Essix” retainers that are virtually invisible to others and slide comfortably over each tooth.

It may take some time to adjust to a new retainer, but a brief time of awkwardness is well worth the assurance that your smile will remain beautiful. If your retainer begins to cause discomfort, contact us. We can make adjustments to the appliance or determine if you need a replacement. Remember to always bring your retainer to appointments with us!

Do you have further questions regarding relapse and retainers? Give our Tribeca or Park Avenue offices call. Our staff is happy to explain the important guidelines that follow orthodontic treatment.