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Can My Teeth Shift After Invisalign Treatment?

Sep 01, 2023
Invisalign has been a game-changing orthodontic treatment option. Patients get the smile they’ve always wanted without broadcasting their treatment to the world. But what happens after treatment? Can teeth shift back?

Few if any advances in orthodontics have changed the landscape as much as Invisalign® has. 

To think that both teens and adults can go through orthodontic treatment mostly unnoticed because of the virtually invisible aligner trays seemed impossible — especially to the millions of patients who have dealt with the discomfort, stigma and embarrassment of metal braces and headgear.

But how does Invisalign compare to other orthodontic options when it comes to teeth shifting after active treatment ends? 

Take a moment as our own Scott McPherson, DDS, at Ballpark Heights Family Dentistry in Des Moines, Iowa, unpacks how Invisalign treatment works, and more importantly, what you can do to keep your new smile beautiful for years to come. 

The Invisalign difference

A great place to start is to explain what Invisalign is and how it differs from other orthodontic treatment options. 

If you or someone you know wore braces decades ago, you’re all too aware that material differences were nonexistent. Traditional metal braces were the only choice, and with them came longer treatment times, discomfort and messy wax, and frequent check-in appointments.

Invisalign changed all that. Specifically, Invisalign uses a series of custom-made clear aligner trays to slowly and gently shift teeth into optimal positioning. 

Once your first set of aligners arrives, you meet with Dr. McPherson, who demonstrates how to place and remove them, and instructs you how often you switch to the next set of aligners and when you can expect to have appointments to check your progress.

You simply wear your aligners for about 22 hours a day, removing them only for eating, drinking, and brushing and flossing your teeth. The end result is a beautiful, enhanced smile with fewer office visits, less discomfort, and better yet, a more discreet way to get your best smile without the embarrassment and stigma of metal braces.

How orthodontics works

Whether your dentist uses Invisalign or traditional braces to enhance your smile, the underlying process is the same — bone cells in your body permit movement from the original position of your teeth to new, optimal positions. Here’s how it plays out. 

During the course of your orthodontics treatment, your Invisalign trays create gentle pressure to shift your teeth. During movement, bone cells called osteoclasts break down old bone, which is then reabsorbed into the bloodstream. 

Once your teeth are in their new positions, another type of bone cells called osteoblasts takes over, forming new bone through a process called ossification.

Ossification creates a strong foundation for your teeth in their new positions and works in coordination with your jawbone to reinforce the entire process. Basically, every time you bite and chew, osteoblasts kick into high gear to strengthen the bone. 

Teeth take time to settle

While there’s nothing much like the day active treatment ends and you say goodbye to that last set of aligner trays, in many ways it’s more of a beginning than an end. You get to begin life with a beautiful, enhanced smile, but like most good things, it comes with some responsibility.

Because bone tissue is a living thing, it’s in an unending state of renewal. In the context of orthodontics, this means it takes some time for your teeth to settle into their new positions, and it takes effort — or more specifically, compliance — on your part to keep them there. In a word: retainers.


Once active treatment ends, your dentist fits you for a custom retainer and provides instructions on how many hours to wear your retainer and for how long. Although specifics about using retainers differs from patient to patient, they generally can’t be worn too much or for too long. 

Generally, patients may need to wear their retainer 24 hours a day except when eating for the first couple months or so to discourage teeth from shifting back into their old positions. After that, many patients are weaned off to just wearing them while sleeping.

While it may be tempting to ditch the retainer, keep in mind that noncompliance exponentially increases the likelihood that your teeth will shift back to their pre-orthodontic treatment positions, so all that work you put in would be for naught.  

If you’re ready to capture your best smile and want to learn more about Invisalign, call our office in the Grand View University area of Des Moines or request an Invisalign appointment online.