Gaps after braces: why they happen and what to do.

Medically Reviewed by a
Licensed DDS

Table of Contents

  1. Braces & Aligners
  2. Movement after Treatment
  3. Protect Your Investment
  4. When a Gap Forms
  5. References

You invested in a better smile. You followed the plan to the letter. Now, when you smile, you notice gaps after braces. What happened?

Braces and aligners should permanently change your smile. But it's common for your teeth to move a bit throughout your life. And a few decisions you make after formal treatment is complete could make your teeth move even more.

If your teeth move after braces, don't despair. Your dental team can help. But if you wait too long to ask for assistance, you might need to start treatment all over again for the best results.

How do braces and aligners work?

Before you can understand why your teeth might move after treatment is through, you'll need to learn more about the mechanics of orthodontics. It might surprise you to learn how quickly your teeth move, and you might be shocked at how fast they can take up old positions.

Braces and aligners work by applying constant pressure to the tops of your teeth. You'll notice the shift at the crowns of your teeth. But there's a lot happening deep below the gum line.

Your teeth are connected to your jaw via ligaments, which are strong, stretchy fibers. They are a lot like the tendons that hold your muscles to your bones. They should stay firmly attached, but they have a bit of flex and pull to them.

Dentists explain that these fibers can stretch during orthodontic treatment. When it happens slowly enough, the bones at the bottom of your teeth respond by rebuilding. Bone breaks down, and other bone builds up.

But when your braces come off, dentists explain, the elastic tissues want to return to their original position. It's a bit like a rubber band. You can pull and pull on the tissue, and it can take on a new shape and form. But if you let go, it will try to snap back to the original shape.

Your teeth will move after treatment.

It's not realistic to expect that your teeth will stay in the same position for the rest of your life, experts say. Once the pressure of braces or aligners is released, your teeth can and will begin to move once again. But other factors can also play a role.

Your teeth don't move solely because of braces or aligners. Teeth can also move due to:

Wisdom Teeth
If you stopped treatment before these big teeth appeared, their presence can cause crowding and shifting. Your mouth must make room for the new arrivals, and that means other structures must move.
Grinding
Plenty of people grind their teeth at night, dentists say. The damage done can be subtle. You may not wake up to see tooth shavings on your pillow. But the pressure can wear down the tops of your teeth, and the clenching can cause your teeth to move.
Constant Use
We use our teeth for all sorts of things, including biting and grinding and chewing. We may also use our teeth as tools if we tear open food packages with them to get to the snacks inside. Each time we use our teeth, the pressure could cause movement.

Some of these issues can't be corrected. You can't stop yourself from talking or chewing, for example, and your wisdom teeth may appear whether you want them or not. But there are plenty of things you could do after treatment that could make your teeth move.

You may not protect your smile after braces or aligners due to:

Avoiding Your Retainer
Your teeth are most vulnerable to shifts in the months immediately following treatment. Typically, you'll wear retainers around the clock during this critical time. Then, you might move to wearing devices only at night. If you don't follow these instructions, your teeth are sure to move.
Wearing The Wrong Retainer
Just like any other device, your retainer can crack, break, or slip. If it doesn't fit on your teeth just right, movements are inevitable. That's why it's critical to reach out for help when the tool doesn't seem quite right.

Researchers can't prove that one retainer is better than another. In studies, almost any retainer can do a good job of keeping teeth close to their post-treatment placement.

But the retainers won't work and help your teeth unless you wear them. If you skip this step, you could see your teeth move dramatically.

Your teeth are almost always in motion and after braces or aligners are removed, gaps between your teeth can form, and if that happens, don't panic

How to protect your investment.

It's clear that wearing retainers is one of the best ways to ensure that you don't develop gaps in your teeth after braces. But there are many other steps you can take to keep your smile looking its best.

Make sure gaps are minimized by:

Using Your Teeth Appropriately
If you use your teeth like tools, it's time to stop. Reach for scissors to open up bags and containers, and don't chew on inanimate objects like pencils and pens.
Keeping Things Clean
Advanced periodontal disease can make your gums swell or recede, and that can lead to even more gapping and movement. Brush twice per day, every single day, and use floss and mouthwash too. A water flosser can also help.
Staying In Touch With Your Treatment Team
If you feel your teeth are moving, or if you notice that your retainers don't work to protect your teeth, point that out to your team. Close contact is the best way to ensure you get timely help. They may need to create a new retainer for you.
Despite all of these steps, your teeth may still move a bit. But by putting your dental health first, you could minimize the gaps. It's wise to do all you can to protect the investment you made in your teeth and your smile.

What happens when a gap forms?

You've followed all the steps, and you still have a gap in your teeth. It happens, and your dental team can help.

Some aligner companies offer guarantees. If you can prove that you followed each step to the letter and gaps formed, you can get another round of treatment at no cost and get back to a healthy smile.

Orthodontists may not offer the same protections, but it's worthwhile to ask if problems appear. Your doctor may surprise you.

If not, you could consider another form of treatment. If you used braces the first time, for example, aligners could be a good choice for dental corrections after treatment ends.

If gaps are very small, your doctor may use modified retainers to push your teeth back into place. But if the gaps are bigger, you may need another round of treatment with aligners or braces to ensure that your teeth move back into position.

Thankfully, these adjustments are usually small, and they can be accomplished relatively quickly. But the sooner you ask for help, the better.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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