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Can Retainers Move Teeth Back

a child holding clear retainers

After finishing orthodontic treatment, the next important phase involves wearing retainers to keep the teeth in their newly aligned positions. But have you ever wondered if retainers can actually move teeth back to their correct alignment?

In today's discussion, we will reveal the truth about their ability to reverse tooth movement and their role in preserving the results of orthodontic procedures. We will also shed light on their effectiveness in preserving an ideal-looking smile.

Why Do Teeth Shift After Corrective Dentistry?

After you have finished wearing braces or clear aligners, it’s possible that your teeth will shift back to where they were before you started using them. It happens for a number of different reasons, some of which are as follows:

Elastic Gum Ligaments

Teeth are held in place by elastic gum ligaments that connect to the bone. During orthodontic treatment, gentle pressure is applied to move teeth, after the treatment, the ligaments may adapt, causing slight changes in alignment.

The Impact of Age and Genetics

Teeth shifting can also be influenced by a combination of aging and genetics. As we grow older, changes in our bones and facial structures, along with genetic factors affecting jaw size and tooth spacing, can lead to gradual alterations in tooth alignment.

Oral Habits

Certain oral habits, like tongue thrusting or teeth grinding, can put pressure on the teeth and cause them to shift. These habits can be especially detrimental after orthodontic treatment, leading to undesired changes in tooth alignment.

Lack of Retention

One of the primary reasons for teeth shifting is the lack of retention. After orthodontic treatment, it is crucial to wear retainers as directed. Retainers help maintain the corrected position of your teeth and prevent them from reverting to their original alignment.

Missing Teeth

If you have missing teeth and do not replace them, the surrounding teeth may shift to fill the gap, which can disrupt the results of your orthodontic treatment and cause misalignment.

Incomplete Treatment

Sometimes, orthodontic treatment may not address all underlying issues comprehensively. In such cases, teeth may gradually move back to their original positions over time.

Understanding the Purpose of Retainers

Upon removing braces or other orthodontic devices, teeth naturally tend to shift over time, this phenomenon is referred to as orthodontic relapse. To prevent this, retainers are used to keep teeth in their new positions until the jawbone and gums adjust to the change.

There are a few distinct kinds of retainers, the most common of which are fixed in place behind the teeth and removable ones that may be detached for cleaning. Regardless of the form, a retainer's primary function serves the same purpose.

Can Retainers Really Move Teeth Back?

The truth is that retainers are not meant to shift teeth actively. Their purpose is to maintain the alignment achieved through braces or other dental procedures. Rather than moving the teeth, they serve as a protective barrier to maintain stability.

While retainers aren't meant to cause major shifts in teeth, they can sometimes lead to minor alterations over time. Age-related shifts are mostly to blame, but the degree of change is usually barely noticeable and not the main reason for using retainers.

Factors That Affect Retainer Effectiveness

The effectiveness of retainers in keeping teeth in place after orthodontic treatment depends on a number of aspects. Using retainers effectively is facilitated by remembering this set of guidelines:

Consistency in wearing

Retainers can only be effective if worn as instructed. Skipping or not wearing them for the recommended duration may lead to teeth shifting back to their original positions.

Type of retainer

Removable retainers and fixed retainers are two forms of retainers. Each type has advantages and weaknesses, and the type of retainer chosen can influence its efficiency.

Fit and condition

Properly fitting retainers are essential for keeping teeth in place. A loose or damaged retainer may not adequately hold teeth, jeopardizing the alignment achieved through orthodontic treatment.

Oral habits

Certain oral activities, such as teeth grinding (bruxism) or nail biting, may put unnecessary strain on the teeth, undermining the retainer's results and potentially jeopardizing the alignment the orthodontic treatment intended to produce.


Younger individuals may experience more significant changes in teeth and jaw structure during development. Consistent retainer wear and check-ups are crucial to maintaining alignment and ensuring the longevity of orthodontic outcomes.

Natural teeth movement

Even with regular retainer wear, teeth may naturally shift over time. Continuous retainer usage and regular orthodontist visits can manage this process.

Orthodontic treatment complexity

The complexity of initial orthodontic treatment can affect how well teeth retain their new positions. Longer and more frequent retainer wear may be necessary in more challenging cases.

Failure to follow instructions

Neglecting regular check-ups or improper retainer cleaning can significantly impact its effectiveness and the stability of teeth alignment.

Accidents or damage

Damaging the retainer can hinder its ability to hold teeth in place. Promptly repairing or replacing a damaged retainer is essential to maintain alignment.

Changes in oral health

Poor oral hygiene or untreated dental issues can reduce the retainer's effectiveness. Addressing dental problems promptly supports the retainer's function in preserving teeth alignment.

Everyone has a unique set of needs when it comes to dental hygiene and retainers, so keep that in mind. The success of orthodontic treatment depends on the patient wearing their retainer as prescribed and consulting their orthodontist whenever necessary.

a man trying on his clear aligners while sitting on the dentist chair

Tips to Prevent Teeth From Shifting

Taking precautionary steps to avoid tooth movement serves as vital for retaining the results of orthodontic treatment intact. Follow these helpful hints to keep your smile straight and maintain the results:

  • Wear your retainers: Listen to your orthodontist and use your retainers as directed. You may need to wear them most of the day at first, then gradually move to nighttime wear.
  • Clean your retainers regularly: Prevent germs and plaque buildup by routinely cleaning your retainers with a soft toothbrush and mild soap.
  • Always wear your retainers. Make wearing your retainers a habit. Neglecting to wear them regularly might lead to teeth shifting back to their original positions.
  • Replace worn-out retainers: Retainers can wear down or lose their shape over time, reducing their ability to hold your teeth in place. Replace them as needed to maintain their effectiveness.
  • Maintain good oral hygiene: Brush and floss your teeth regularly to prevent gum disease and tooth decay, which can contribute to tooth shifting.
  • Limit sugary and acidic foods: Consuming a diet high in sugar and acidic foods can wear down tooth enamel, weaken teeth, and increase the risk of teeth moving.
  • Avoid chewing on hard objects: Refrain from chewing on hard objects like ice, as it can exert pressure on your teeth, causing them to displace.
  • Address bruxism: If you have a habit of grinding your teeth (bruxism), consult your dentist about treatment options. Grinding can cause stress on your teeth and cause them to shift.
  • Be mindful of oral habits: Avoid oral practices like nail-biting and using your teeth as tools, as they can contribute to teeth shifting.
  • Practice good posture: Proper posture can impact your bite and jaw alignment, so pay attention to it throughout the day.
  • Use mouthguards for sports: If you engage in sports or physical activities, wear a mouthguard to protect your teeth from impact.
  • Avoid tongue thrusting: Consult a speech therapist if you have a habit of tongue thrusting while swallowing, as it might lead to shifting.t.
  • Stay consistent with orthodontic check-ups: Keep up with your orthodontist's follow-up appointments to monitor your progress and guarantee your teeth remain in their correct placement.

Long-term success can only be achieved by emphasizing prevention. If you diligently maintain your oral health and adhere to the instructions, you may keep your teeth straight and gums healthy, complying with orthodontic treatment.

Rocky River Orthodontics Can Help You Achieve Your Perfect Smile

At Rocky River Orthodontics, we go above and beyond to ensure your post-orthodontic journey is a success. Our orthodontists will guide you on wearing your retainer(s) correctly and provide personalized care based on your unique needs.

Book your appointment now, and let us be your partner in maintaining a smile that will leave a lasting impression!


In orthodontic treatment, retainers fulfill a significant part, but it’s important to understand their limitations. Retainers are not meant to realign teeth, rather, they are used to keep teeth in their new positions after orthodontic work.


Is it okay to eat with a retainer on?

No, it is advised to remove your retainer when eating to prevent potential damage to the device and maintain the cleanliness and health of your teeth.

Do retainers hurt?

Some discomfort may be felt initially, but it should subside as your mouth adapts to the retainer. If you experience persistent pain, consult your orthodontist.

Why are teeth shifting back even with retainers?

Teeth may shift back if you skip wearing your retainer for a few sessions or miss wearing it several nights each week. Wearing a retainer is a lifelong commitment. If you skip or forget to wear your retainer and then wear it after a few nights, you may notice it feels too tight.

How fast do teeth move back without a retainer?

Without a retainer, teeth can begin to shift back relatively quickly. The precise speed of movement varies from person to person, but consistent retainer wear is crucial to maintain the alignment achieved through orthodontic treatment.

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  • I am thrilled to share my wonderful experience under the care of Dr. Groody for my Invisalign journey. From the very beginning, his expertise and dedication were evident as he created a personalized treatment plan to address my orthodontic needs. Throughout the process, Dr. Groody always made himself available to see me and answer my questions. His personalized approach, clear communication, and genuine care made each visit comfortable and informative. Thanks to his skillful guidance, my smile has been beautifully transformed. I definitely recommend Dr. Groody to anyone seeking exceptional orthodontic care that goes beyond expectations!"

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  • Knowledgeable, Efficient & Went the Extra Mile

    I came to Dr. Groody from out of town with a broken permanent retainer. Despite several other patients being in the office, he was attentive, genuine, and friendly to me as I told him the issue. I’ve had my retainer fixed at my home dentist a couple of times and it was clear Dr Groody used a different process entirely and went the extra mile to make it a sustainable fix. The end result of the retainer was thinner more comfortable than before my original wife broke. He cleaned up residual bonding that other dentists had previously just left and piled on. It was quick, efficient, and a 10/10 experience. Highly recommend!!!

    Katelyn L.

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