Is Teeth Straightening Actually Permanent?

woman smiling showing straight teeth

Completing orthodontic treatment with traditional braces or invisible aligners is a big commitment of time and financial resources. Before making the leap, it is natural for people to want to know whether the results they achieve will last. The good news is that teeth straightening is usually permanent, but you will need to put in some additional effort to ensure that your treatment results last a lifetime.

Teeth Can Move into Old Position without Additional Treatment

Once teeth are no longer under pressure to move from the force braces or aligners place on them, it is common for them to begin shifting back to their original position. Orthodontists refer to this process as relapse. During the process of moving teeth, bone needs to regenerate around the teeth in their new position. The regeneration process can take a significant amount of time.
Unfortunately, teeth can still shift back to their old location even when the bone has regenerated if they do not receive consistent reinforcement. For this reason, your orthodontist is likely to recommend that you wear a retainer once your braces come off or you reach the end of your treatment time with clear aligners.

Most patients are unaware that teeth naturally shift towards the front of the mouth as people age. This is true even for those who completed orthodontic treatment when they were younger. People who started out wearing their retainer regularly but then got out of the habit are more at risk of having this happen than those who wore it consistently. Here are some of the common reasons orthodontic patients stop wearing their retainers:

  • Lose or break the retainer and do not return to orthodontist to replace it
  • Grow weary of wearing something in their mouth without reflecting on how much time and effort they put in to get to this point
  • After not wearing the retainer for a while, it no longer fits correctly when they do put it in
  • The retainer becomes worn and does not work as effectively as it did in the beginning

Your teeth can shift when you do not wear your retainer for a while, which means that your orthodontist might have to make you a new one. The best way to avoid the inconvenience and added cost of multiple retainers is to wear the first one you receive according to your orthodontist’s instructions.

Types of Retainers Patients Wear After Orthodontic Treatment

Orthodontists typically offer patients the choice to wear a fixed or removable retainer. A fixed retainer is a thin piece of wire that your orthodontist affixes behind two, four, or six of your front teeth. The wire may remain in your mouth permanently. Orthodontic wires are small and comfortable, and you should barely notice yours after a while.
You will need to commit to a regular oral hygiene routine of daily brushing and flossing once the wire is in place. If you do not, plaque and tartar can build up on the wire and cause it to erode. Should you notice the wire is accumulating plaque and tartar despite regular brushing and flossing, schedule an appointment for professional teeth cleaning as soon as possible.
Removable retainers are similar to the clear aligners you may have worn during orthodontic treatment. You only need to wear them at night, but you should wait to put the retainer on until after you have brushed your teeth. Be sure to clean the retainer regularly by using one of these methods:

  • Place a denture cleaning tablet or cleaning crystals provided by your orthodontist into a glass of water and let it soak during the day.
  • Buy a separate toothbrush for cleaning your retainer and scrub it with toothpaste or soap. You will want to rinse the retainer thoroughly with water to avoid transferring the taste into your mouth.

Permanent Results Depend on Your Efforts

Teeth straightening with traditional braces or clear aligners is permanent when you follow all aftercare instructions. Not all patients will need to wear a retainer after their orthodontist removes braces or they wear their last clear aligner, but most do.

Keep in mind that your clear aligner provides you with instructions for your own benefit. Whether it is wearing a retainer at night, having a fixed retainer installed, or avoiding certain foods or activities, these are short-term sacrifices for achieving better oral health and a more attractive smile.

Lastly, resist the urge to skip follow-up appointments just because you have completed treatment. Your orthodontist will measure your progress at these appointments to make sure that your treatment results do indeed remain permanent.