If you’ve had orthodontic treatment in the past, you may believe your newly straightened smile is set for life. Later on, you may find those orthodontic corrections backsliding, and your teeth shifting back into their old positions. This can be alarming if you’ve spent a long time treating your well-earned smile. 

Here at Ollins Orthodontics, we see adult patients all the time who are experiencing what is called an orthodontic relapse. The smile they spent so much time treating has begun to move and they want to know if they can get it back on track again. 

Lucky for you, there is a solution. Dr. Ollins has years of experience working with orthodontic patients of all ages, including adults who need new treatment to correct an orthodontic relapse. Let’s examine what can cause an orthodontic relapse, why you should treat them, and what we can do to help you.

What is an orthodontic relapse?

Orthodontic relapse is the tendency of the teeth to return to the original positions they were in before orthodontic treatment. Short-term relapse happens less than one year after the completion of treatment. Long-term relapse occurs more than a year after finishing treatment. 

Orthodontic relapse is a fairly common occurrence. Some studies estimate that more than 50% of patients will experience some level of relapse within ten years of finishing their treatment. This chance for relapse is one reason orthodontists have changed their approach to retainer wear in recent years. In the past, many adults dealing with relapse were told they could discontinue wearing their retainers after a year or two. Nowadays, orthodontists agree that retainers should be worn for life.

In most cases, you’ll only need to wear your retainers at night after the first few months. This will be enough to stabilize your newly straightened smile and help keep your teeth in their optimal positions.

Retreatment Options for Adults

What causes an orthodontic relapse? 

The most common reason for teeth shifting after orthodontic treatment is not using a retainer as directed by an orthodontist. Many patients underestimate the importance of retainers, especially once some time has passed. It’s important to remember that the work doesn’t stop once your treatment is over! 

After the initial phase of treatment is complete, the teeth and surrounding bone and gums still need time to solidify in their new locations. Wearing your retainers as directed by your orthodontist will help protect your teeth from the forces trying to pull them back to their previous positions and assist with the stabilization effort over time. There can be other contributing factors for them as well. These include:


Genetics can give you a naturally beautiful smile, but you still may experience some shifting of your teeth as you get older. This is a common occurrence because, whether you had braces in the past or not, the back teeth tend to shift forward over time, reducing the amount of space available for the front teeth, which get crowded out of the arch alignment.

Teeth Grinding

People who experience chronic tooth grinding will already know the damage it can cause, but the force places a strain on teeth over time that can alter the bite and result in misalignment. 

Tooth Loss

If you’ve lost teeth due to trauma, decay, or tooth disease, the teeth surrounding that empty space will often begin to drift towards it over time. If this is left uncorrected, it can eventually lead to misalignment of the teeth and the bite.

How is orthodontic relapse treated?

It can be alarming to see your teeth shifting for any reason, but our expert orthodontic office is here to help! There are typically a few different options when it comes to addressing an orthodontic relapse.

Monitoring the teeth

Even with perfect compliance and the best retainer, you may still experience some minor tooth movement over time. As we covered above, the bone and gums that support your teeth change as you age, and retainers can become slightly distorted with wear. If you’ve worn your retainer exactly as directed by Dr. Ollins and there has only been minor shifting of your teeth, we’re able to leave things as they are for the time being and just monitor your teeth for any further shifting.

Creating new retainers

There are types of minor movements we’ll want to treat, and these cases can sometimes be corrected with a new or replacement retainer. If you’ve lost or broken your retainer, this will be one of the first things we do. In general, fixed retainers are good for maintaining the alignment of the lower teeth, while removable aligners will typically be recommended for the upper teeth. 


If you’ve suffered a more extreme relapse, we may recommend retreatment with braces or aligners. As an adult, you might resist returning to traditional braces again, but we’re able to offer a wide variety of treatment options to correct your relapse. These include discreet options like clear braces and Invisalign clear aligners. 

What are the benefits of retreatment?

The prospect of retreatment can feel overwhelming, but there are good reasons for addressing your orthodontic relapse! The first is improved oral health. Crowded teeth create crevices where food particles can accumulate, leading to plaque and tartar buildup. Teeth that are properly spaced and aligned are easier to keep clean with a good dental hygiene routine. 

Retreatment can give you back the aligned smile you had before. This can help you feel more confident and improve your overall self-esteem. The good news is that correcting a relapse often takes much less time than your original treatment. Whether you choose braces or aligner treatment to correct your orthodontic relapse, the results will be more than worth it when you recognize your smile in the mirror again.

Retreatment Options for Adults

Your smile is safe at Ollins Orthodontics

Ollins Orthodontics wants to help you on your road to the perfect smile. Our well-trained doctors will create a custom treatment plan and provide exceptional care from your first appointment to your last. Orthodontics is our primary specialty, our caring team has the skills and experience to give you the best in treatment at the best costs, and with the best efficiency as you work to align your jaw and smile!

No matter where you are along your orthodontic journey, we want to be there for you every step of the way. Contact us today to schedule your FREE consultation here at our Ollins Orthodontics office. There is no pressure or obligation to enter a treatment plan but great individualized information to help you decide what is best for your smile.