Lost my retainer 14 years ago and now my teeth are giving me anxiety
September 20, 2022 8:27 AM   Subscribe

I am 32 now. When I was a child, I was fortunate enough to have braces done by a wonderful private dentist. The work was beautiful and the braces came off when I was 16. I had a retainer. I lost the retainer when I was 18 for a stupid reason, and I only found them 9 months later, and they no longer fit. I'm considering going to a dentist to get the braces redone. I'm wondering if it is worthwhile because I do not have much money at all, but every time I feel my teeth or look at them, I wonder why I was so stupid and did not just go and get a new pair made when I lost the retainer.

I know that I should not be asking for medical advice here. But I want to know what to expect before going to a dentist for ... what I am going to ask for.

Now, my two front teeth flare out a lot. They also hurt and they seem to be sagging in the absence of a bottom row to support them.

I am wondering if the final stress of having braces will weaken the teeth and make them fall out.

Not asking for medical advice. Just commiserations from people who had braces done twice. Once as children and once as grown ups.
posted by Didnt_do_enough to Health & Fitness (18 answers total)
i am 42 and just did this. braces off when i was 16, wore retainer faithfully, then had to get a bite guard for my tmj, which they promised up and down would act as a retainer too. it did not. so over the last 20 years my teeth shifted a lot and made me unhappy and so i sprung for invisalign. when i got that done i got a couple veneers. I AM SO HAPPY. i smile a lot more. it was not cheap, but it was very worth it to me. i will note that i put it off for about 10 years longer than i wanted to due to the expense, so i understand if you can't get it done right now. but start saving!

and, this is not uncommon. my orthodontist said almost half of her patients are adults in the same situation or similar.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 8:35 AM on September 20 [2 favorites]

I had braces as a child, after some time wearing my retainer I fell out of habit and my teeth shifted noticeably to me (though still better than if I'd never had braces). I obsessed about it for a little bit and ended up getting a new retainer made. It does seem to still serve a function (I can feel the pressure if I put it on after skipping a lot of days), but more importantly it makes me feel better, like I've done something. It's also way cheaper than braces. Maybe you could try it?

In my case, my previous orthodontic work also resulted in root resorption that would make future braces slightly more risky. So that's another thing to ask your dentist/orthodontist about.
posted by AndrewInDC at 8:36 AM on September 20

Yes, see a dentist and ask what's possible! Another option to research might be Invisalign to bring your teeth back into the alignment you like.

Losing or refusing a retainer at 18 is super common, don't beat yourself up about it. Retainers are kind of annoying and 18 year olds aren't good at long-term thinking or at internalizing the value of money, or of incremental habits. I don't think I know a single 18 year old who would feel great about admitting a mistake (losing the first retainer) and paying for a new retainer. It's common and understandable and fixable! Anything that bothers you can always be adjusted, and you're worth it.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 8:38 AM on September 20 [3 favorites]

Hey, this is exactly me, down to the age and the annoying front teeth. My parents were only able to pay for my upper teeth to be corrected when I was a kid, and the resulting instability with my still-crooked bottom teeth + retainer loss when I was in college meant that by 30, while most people genuinely didn't notice the misalignment of my teeth, I definitely did and it drove me nuts. So I sympathize deeply with you.

It was a pisser to have to pay to have them redone, but by shopping around I was able to find a pretty good price, since my re-correction was minor enough that I was able to do a sub-12-month Invisalign treatment. (I saw 4 orthos for quotes and the prices ranged enormously--the place I ended up cost half what the first professional I saw would have charged, for a totally satisfsctory result.) I now have permanent top and bottom retainers (WHY did they not give me a permanent one in the first place?! Maybe because I was too young?) and am thrilled with the result. Beyond aesthetic considerations, the resulting reduction in tooth-related stress alone--omg am I grinding them even further out of alignment? Do they look more noticeable in profile? Is that gap bigger than last year?--made it worth the money for me, despite it being a pretty big outlay relative to my resources (the whole treatment cost a little more than 1.5 months' salary).

I'd definitely recommend at least asking a couple places for a consult and/or a quote (though unfortunately I think the majority of orthos do charge for this regardless of whether you pursue treatment), to get an idea of what the cost would be and what payment plans might be available, so you can have a solid starting point for reflecting on whether it seems worth it to you.
posted by TinyChicken at 8:40 AM on September 20 [1 favorite]

I had braces, and a retainer, and my adult teeth have still shifted. It happens. Don't beat yourself up about it, DO go visit a dentist!
posted by nkknkk at 8:41 AM on September 20 [3 favorites]

Ah, and to avoid abusing the edit window: I also called my childhood orthodontist to get their opinion (I now live far enough away that I could not have gone back to them for an ongoing treatment), and they reassured me that even with perfect adherence to whatever maintenance regimen, teeth shift throughout one's lifetime regardless. So definitely don't beat yourself up!
posted by TinyChicken at 8:45 AM on September 20 [3 favorites]

I had braces, was bad at wearing a retainer, and now my teeth are...still better than before, but certainly not perfect (very noticeable overbite). This used to bother me, but now it mostly doesn't - my focus is on the fact that I have teeth that I care for by brushing and flossing.

I'm not saying don't see a dentist about this, but don't beat yourself up.
posted by coffeecat at 8:48 AM on September 20 [1 favorite]

Hey, go easy on yourself! I'm in a similar situation -- I had several years of braces and orthodontic work as a kid to correct my very crooked teeth. I was good about wearing my retainer for several years after that, but eventually I stopped and the retainer stopped fitting. Now, 10 years later, I have a very obvious gap between my two front teeth, which I'm pretty self-conscious about.

Every so often I start beating myself up for it -- my parents spent so much money on my orthodontic work! if only I'd kept wearing my retainer I'd have perfect teeth now! I'm such an idiot! But I try really hard not to go too far down that mental rabbit hole. Wearing a retainer consistently, for years and years, is HARD and SUCKS. I know very few adults my age (late 20s) who consistently wear a retainer. For the most part, the ones who have good teeth were either blessed with good teeth to begin with, or are just lucky that their teeth didn't shift too much after they stopped wearing a retainer. It's not a moral failing, it's just genetic luck of the draw. (I have infinite respect for anyone who has consistently worn a retainer for over a decade!)

I've considered getting a second round of braces to correct the gap between my front teeth, but haven't looked into it too seriously yet due to the expense and the fear that they'll just shift back again if I don't constantly wear a retainer. I don't know. It's annoying but I try to embrace my imperfect teeth as much as possible.
posted by mekily at 8:51 AM on September 20 [2 favorites]

I had very crooked teeth as a kid. I didn’t get braces until I was 30 and could afford to get them. I am so glad I did, even at that age. I have a retainer, but I went through a period where I wasn’t as religious about wearing it at night, and I have paid the price, 30 years later, and my teeth have moved to where I need them dealt with. Like you, though, I really cannot afford braces now.

There’s always opting to go down the CareCredit path, which every dentist in the country accepts. Still, the monthly payment would be a burden.

So, I guess to answer your question...At your age, is it worth it? Absolutely! How to afford it, though, is a bigger question only you can work-out. Sorry. Maybe a GoFundMe?
posted by Thorzdad at 8:55 AM on September 20

Nthing - I did this exact same thing (with added grief/shame at moving out and being alone at age 18). Paid for full braces again during 30s - more than a decade later so happy to have straight and healthy teeth. Paying for them on my own made me value my smile and I take so much better care of my oral hygiene.
posted by turtlefu at 9:05 AM on September 20 [1 favorite]

Just another voice to say: I did exactly the same thing. Don't feel shame. (Maybe one more voice helps.) I was very glad that I went back and later got Invisalign, although I didn't have the same money troubles you do so I don't know how to help you weigh that.
posted by branca at 9:34 AM on September 20

Teeth move throughout your life. My wife, my brother, and my best friend (separate people) had braces as kids and faithfully wore their retainer, and they all needed braces a decade or two (or three) later.

This is normal. If you go to a dentist and they don't treat it as normal, go find another dentist.
posted by Ookseer at 10:15 AM on September 20 [3 favorites]

Had braces twice as a kid - once in elementary school, and then as a teenager. That’s back when the orthodontist said you only had to wear retainer(s) for a few years. As an adult, my teeth REALLY shifted, and I’ve had several root canals on front teeth, including two on the same tooth. The pain and pressure didn’t let up…until I coughed up $6,000 for Invisalign at age 38. I LOVE IT. My teeth look amazing, my lower teeth don’t hurt anymore, the trays keep me from grinding (I was a heavy grinder and would remove my guard in my sleep), my jaw pain and headaches are gone, my coworkers and partner don’t complain about my snoring anymore, and I might have avoided a CPAP machine. WORTH IT. I get it; the cost is tough - I make a little under $16 an hour. But my overall health has improved to where I can’t believe I didn’t make this decision years ago. I am going to an expensive orthodontist who also has a very credible background - I was referred to that practice after my regular dentist stated that he felt I needed a specialist instead of cosmetic straightening. They don’t hurt like regular braces, you can feel and see the results, and I will receive a permanent retainer for my lower teeth and then a heavy duty tray for upper teeth that I am to WEAR FOREVER.
Good luck, but man, is it worth it.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 10:22 AM on September 20 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, something like 30+% of my ortho’s patients are adults of all ages. This is increasingly common.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 10:23 AM on September 20 [1 favorite]

As you're finding out, braces don't really work as we might think they ought to. Teeth move throughout your life and for lots of people it's not possible to keep them fixed for certain, even with a retainer.

My brother had braces as a kid and as an adult (age 29) and is very happy with the results. IIRC as an adult he wore them for less than a year, but they were very visible in that time. I know a few people who have done invisalign, which is great if you don't want people to know you're wearing a brace. That includes someone who did about 75% of the invisalign trays and then gave up. She's happy with the outcome she's gotten. If your teeth are really making you unhappy, get a consult and see what is possible and how much it would cost. Try and find someone who is realistic about what they can do for you.
posted by plonkee at 11:16 AM on September 20

I'm 71, had a retainer in my teens, lost it, got braces in my 50s, and have been wearing the retainers devotedly until the top one stopped fitting the roof of my mouth, and I went back last year to an orthodontist for a replacement top one. You are never too old for someone to take your money.

Yes, teeth move. Yes, you are not too old to make your teeth look nice.
posted by Peach at 11:26 AM on September 20 [3 favorites]

I had the same situation and ended up getting Invisalign at around the same age as you. Very happy with it, I stopped feeling that anxiety around my teeth, and having seen my mom lose a couple of teeth due to misalignments that put perpetual stress on her teeth and jaw, I don’t think it’s purely cosmetic or frivolous. If you can afford it, go for it. I just would stay away from Smile Direct Club.
posted by music for skeletons at 1:14 PM on September 20

I just went through this! I had extensive braces and bite correction in my early teens, and lost my retainer soon after. My teeth and bite stayed more or less functional but recently -- in my 40s -- everything started to smoosh to the middle. I opted for invisible retainers. It took almost a year but my teeth are back in line and I am so happy. (Flossing is easier now because my teeth aren't so tightly packed!) My dentist checked my teeth and roots before and after and confirmed that everything is healthy.

I am so glad I did it. I really encourage you to look at your options.
posted by woot at 2:42 PM on September 20

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