Gaps After Braces: Why They Happen & What to Do

Gaps After Braces: Why They Happen & What to Do
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Table of Contents

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

If you’ve corrected your smile and bite with orthodontic treatment but find that your teeth have shifted and you now have gaps (or other alignment issues), it’s most likely because you haven’t worn your retainer as advised.

The retention period of orthodontic treatment begins as soon as you get your braces off or finish your last aligner tray. 

A retainer is usually worn full-time for around four months to a year after treatment. After that, part-time wear is recommended indefinitely. To ensure teeth stay in place, you may wear a retainer for the rest of your life.

This is because teeth naturally shift over time, and other factors can also contribute to tooth movement. Wearing a retainer is necessary to “retain” your corrected teeth placement.

How Do Braces & Aligners Work?

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.

gaps in teeth

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 bones build 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.

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Your Teeth Will Move After Treatment

Why Do Teeth Move After Treatment

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. Teeth can also move due to these issues:

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.
Plenty of people grind their teeth at night, dentists say. The damage 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, grinding, and chewing. We may also use our teeth as tools if we tear open food packages. Every 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.

Lack of Retainer Use
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.
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 it 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.

How to Protect your Investment

how to prevent gaps after braces

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 doing these things:

Use 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.
Keep 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.
Stay 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.

What Happens when a Gap Forms?

You've followed all the steps, and you still have a gap in your teeth. Your dental team may be able to help. \ \ Some aligner companies offer guarantees. If you followed treatment instructions but still developed gaps, you may be able to get another round of treatment at no cost.

Orthodontists may not offer the same protections, but it's worthwhile to ask if problems appear.\ \ If not, you could consider another form of treatment. If you used braces the first time, teeth 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.


Tooth Retainer. Cleveland Clinic. 

How Long Do You Have to Wear a Retainer After Your Braces Come Off? Colgate. 

Orthodontic Teeth Movement. (2010). Science Direct

Your Teeth Have Moved After Braces. What Now? (February 2017). Sensu. 

Adult Braces: More People Paying Thousands for Straighter Teeth. (September 2019). BBC. 

3 Tips to Prevent Your Teeth From Shifting After Braces. Parks Orthodontics. 

Sleep-Related Movement Disorders: Teeth Grinding. (December 2009). The Sleep Foundation.

Retention Procedures for Stabilising Tooth Position After Treatment With Orthodontic Braces. (January 2016). Cochrane Reviews.

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.