Losing retainers or going without them for an extended period of time is a common worry, as you may wonder how quickly your teeth could shift without them. After investing time and money in orthodontic treatments to get the perfect smile, it’s perfectly normal to be concerned about maintaining that progress.
Teeth have a natural tendency to move and shift due to the various pressures exerted on them. While everyone’s experience might be different, skipping a retainer for just a few short weeks can cause some teeth to shift, potentially undoing your hard work.
I’m here to answer your most burning questions about how fast teeth shift without a retainer, and what happens if you fail to wear it for a week, 2 weeks, a month or more. Keep reading to learn more!
How quickly do teeth shift if you don’t wear a retainer?
While this question feels a lot like asking “how long is a piece of string”, I’ll do my best to answer. Not everyone will experience the same amount of shifting without a retainer. You may have a higher tendency to relapse if your teeth have been crowded, if your teeth are loose due to bone loss or periodontal disease, and if you just got your braces removed.
In short, teeth will start to shift in as little as 12 hours, this is why you might feel them pop back into place whenever you place your retainer at night. Visible changes, however, will take a lot longer than that, usually 2 weeks or more. Permanent, irreversible changes will usually hapen after the 3 week mark.
Time passed since removing braces
The speed at which your teeth shift without a retainer depends on how recently you completed your orthodontic treatment. If you have just gotten your braces off, your teeth might move more quickly back to their original positions without a retainer. This is because the periodontal ligaments are still stretched (and will remain so for at least a year) and will tend to pull teeth back to their old locations.
As more time passes since removing your braces (two years or more), your teeth may become more comfortable in their new positions, decreasing the risk of fast shifting.
Keep in mind the type of retainer you have is also important. Essix retainers, which are clear and cover more surface area, might feel tighter if you haven’t worn them for a while compared to Hawley retainers. This is because any change in your teeth’s position could make it harder for the Essix retainer to fit again.
Not Wearing Your Retainer for a Week
Whether you lost or broke your retainer, or it’s taking your orthodontist more time to provide you with one, you might spend a week without a retainer. Many people get really worried about this, and while it’s not ideal, rest assured that you’ll be okay.
In the first week of not wearing your retainer, you might not immediately notice any significant changes in your teeth. It’s common for the teeth to shift slightly during this time, but these changes are typically minimal.
You might feel slight discomfort or tightness when trying to put the retainer back on after a week, but it should still fit. Don’t worry, this is quite normal and the tension should subside after a few hours or days of resuming retainer wear.
Remember, consistently wearing your retainer is crucial for maintaining your beautifully aligned teeth. So while a week without a retainer might not cause drastic shifts, it’s best to avoid missing wear time whenever possible. Irregular retainer wear will create a back and forth movement that’s not healthy for your teeth.
During the week you’re unable to wear your retainer, keep it stored in its protective case and avoid exposing it to heat or harsh chemicals. This will help ensure that your retainer stays in good condition and is ready for use when you’re able to resume your regular wear schedule.
Not Wearing Your Retainer for 2 Weeks
If you don’t wear your retainer for two weeks, your teeth will start shifting, with the bottom incisors most likely to show visible changes. Slight vertical movement can also occur, as your teeth naturally try to stabilize your bite. This can make it more difficult for you to fit your Essix retainer back onto your teeth.
When you attempt to wear your retainer again after this two-week period, you might feel that it’s tighter than usual. Don’t be alarmed; this is due to the small changes in your teeth alignment during this time.
To accommodate these changes and get your teeth back in alignment, it’s a good idea to wear your retainer for more hours than you typically would, ideally full time except for meals and brushing. Gradually, you’ll notice the fit feeling more comfortable and normal. Once your retainer feels like it did before, you can switch back to nighttime wear.
We want to avoid using retainers as aligners as much as possible, though, because retainers are made up of a harder plastic material and it will apply more force on your teeth compared to Invisalign-type aligners that are more gradual and gentle.
Not Wearing Your Retainer for a Month
Unfortunately, if you don’t wear your retainer for a month, you might face some issues. If you just got your braces off, your teeth may have shifted visibly. If it’s been a year and more, you might still be faced with minor shifting.
If the relapse bothers you, you might need braces or clear aligners again to undo the crowding or rotations that occured. You might be tempted to try to reverse this by wearing the old retainer again, but it might feel impossibly tight or it might not fit at all – in which case, it’s crucial that you don’t force it on.
To prevent further relapse, reach out to your orthodontist right away if you haven’t worn your retainer for an extended period. If the relapse is minor, simply getting a new retainer will keep your teeth in place and avoid any more shifting.
How to Prevent Teeth From Shifting
Taking care of your teeth after orthodontic treatment is essential to maintain alignment and prevent any unwanted teeth shifting. Here are some helpful tips to follow:
It’s natural for your teeth to shift over time, especially when you’re not wearing a retainer. Shifting teeth can lead to other issues such as bite changes and potential discomfort. Your best course of action in this case would be to reach out to your orthodontist to reorder a new custom retainer.
Remember to take care of your retainer, keep it clean, and always use a protective case when not in use. Your retainer is essential in maintaining the beautiful smile that you’ve worked hard to achieve through orthodontic treatment. Stay diligent with your retainer wear, and you’ll be able to enjoy a straight and stunning smile for years to come.