How Long Do You Really Have to Wear a Retainer?

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Table of Contents

  1. What Are Retainers?
  2. Permanent Retainer
  3. Wearing Retainers After Braces
  4. Is It for Life?
  5. How Many Hours per Day?
  6. How Many Days per Week?
  7. Proper Care
  8. Not Wearing It
  9. Retainer Treatment Timeline FAQs
  10. References

Immediately after finishing your braces or aligner treatment plan, you’ll likely have to wear your retainer on a full-time basis for up to 22 hours a day. You’ll only take your retainer out to eat and brush and floss your teeth. 

After four months to a year, most people can transition to part-time retainer use, wearing the device only at night.

Because teeth shift naturally and may move because of other factors, you’ll have to wear your retainer part-time indefinitely to protect your corrected bite and smile. 

Some people will have to wear a retainer for at least 10 years. Many orthodontists recommend wearing the retainer part-time for the rest of your life.

What are Retainers?

Think of a retainer as protection. You've invested in your smile with braces or aligners. Your retainers ensure that your teeth stay in the right place. 

Retainers keep your smile in place when active treatment is complete. Adults need to wear their retainers for life, but adolescents may be able to stop wearing them after about 10 years.

Multiple types of retainers exist, including these:

These are plates that sit on the roof of the mouth, and wires wrap around the front of the teeth to keep the plates in place. You can remove these retainers when you eat, or you may only wear them at night.

These retainers look a little like aligners. They wrap all the way around the teeth. Similarly, you remove them when you eat, or you might only wear them when you sleep.

These retainers sit behind the teeth, so they're not visible, but they never come out. You've probably heard of traditional and plastic retainers before. But permanent retainers might seem a little unusual to you.

Retainers keep your smile in place when active treatment is complete and adults need to wear their retainers for life, but adolescents may be able to stop wearing them after about 10 years.

What is a Permanent Retainer, and How Long Is It Worn?

A permanent retainer is glued to the back of your teeth. Your orthodontist installs it, and it never comes out unless someone else removes it and dissolves the glue. 

There’s no specified time for permanent retainer use, but you should check in annually with your orthodontist to ensure the retainer isn’t causing decay or bacteria buildup, and that it doesn’t need to be removed or cleaned. Experts say permanent retainers are typically recommended for people who had teeth that met these criteria:

  • Very rotated

  • Crowded

  • Spaced far apart

Teeth like this are very prone to take up their old positions, and they need the constant presence of a retainer to keep them in line and in place.  A permanent retainer may also be recommended for people who struggle to follow instructions. You can't take it out, so you're not tempted to take a break from it. If you know you won't wear a removable retainer as instructed, a permanent version may be smart.  But permanent retainers also come with some serious drawbacks, including risk of the following:

  • Damage: If the permanent retainer becomes broken, it can damage the tooth or gums.

  • Decay: Any fixed device can make it more difficult to clean your teeth, as plaque and bacteria can collect in the spaces between the wiring and the teeth and gums.

  • Discomfort: If there’s any friction between the retainer and tongue, chafing can be a problem.

Why You'll Be Wearing Retainers after Braces for a Long Time

Retainers aren’t just something you wear after you get your braces off. They’re part of your orthodontic treatment. Braces have moved your teeth into their ideal positions, and a retainer will keep them there (“retaining” your corrected smile and bite). If you don’t wear your retainer after completing your treatment, your teeth may move or shift back to their old position or to new incorrect positions. This can erase all of the work and time you’ve put into wearing and caring for your braces.

Do You Have to Wear Them for Life?

Whether you choose a permanent retainer or a removable version, that appliance will be part of your routine for at least 10 years, if not the rest of your life.

Braces and aligners work by applying consistent pressure that stretches the network of tissues that connect your teeth to your jaws. The bones in your teeth remodel and change shape based on that pressure. But some spring in the tissues remains.

How Long Do You Have to Wear a Retainer

The first two weeks are critical. When constant pressure is removed, teeth are tempted to take up their old positions. During this time, you'll wear your retainer all the time to protect your investment. But even when those weeks pass, you'll need to keep your teeth in their new positions. It's best to wear your retainer at night, every night, to protect your teeth. If you had your dental work done when you were a teenager, and you wore your retainer for 10 years after treatment, you may be able to stop wearing the device if your dentist approves.

If you had your teeth adjusted as an adult, you'll wear your retainer for life. Your chances of teeth shifting are simply greater, and teeth tend to move as we age. To protect your investment, your retainer should be part of your life moving forward.

How Many Hours per Day Should You Wear a Retainer?

If you recently finished a treatment regime with braces or clear teeth aligners, the first two weeks following treatment are important. During this time, you may need to wear your retainers for up to 22 hours per day, taking them out only to eat and care for your teeth.

After four months to a year (depending on your teeth and treatment), you’ll likely transition to part-time use, wearing the retainer only at night.

How Many Days Per Week Do You Need to Wear It?

You’ll need to wear your retainers every day. While missing a day or night here and there won’t cause dramatic issues, it’s important to make them part of your regular routine.

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Take Care of your Removable Retainers

Because retainers are worn long term, they require regular maintenance and care.

Retainers you can pop in your mouth and remove again are easy to wear and clean. But they're also easy to neglect, and doing so could come with serious consequences.

To take care of your retainers, you must do the following:

Take out the device when you're preparing to eat or when you're going to drink something other than water.

Nasty buildup can make your device both look and taste bad. A thorough rinse under cool water can help you keep the retainer clean.

Keep your retainer in a case when it's not in your mouth. It's very easy to forget these devices and throw them away.

If the devices feel loose or worn, or if they are cracked or damaged, you'll need a new retainer.

Retainers aren't cheap. Researchers say a standard, wire retainer can cost up to $340.

What Happens if You Don’t Wear Your Retainer?

If you don’t wear your retainer, your teeth will eventually shift back to their old positions. This is particularly true in the months and even years directly following treatment with aligners or braces. 

After you have consistently worn your retainers for at least 10 years, your teeth might be fixed in their new positions. But if they begin to shift again, you’ll need to return to regularly wearing your retainer. 

Many people, particularly those who have braces or aligners in adulthood, need to wear their retainers for the rest of their lives.

Retainer Treatment Timeline Frequently Asked Questions

Your orthodontist will likely instruct you to wear your retainer full-time (only removing to eat and perform your daily hygiene routine) for four to six months immediately after braces treatment. To ensure your teeth stay in place, you may have to wear your retainer on a part-time basis for months, years, or even the rest of your life.

While many individuals will not need to wear a retainer on a full-time basis after six months, part-time retainer use will be needed to ensure teeth don’t shift or migrate over time.

How long you’ll have to wear your retainer after braces depends on your teeth and your treatment plan. Some people may only have to wear a retainer for a few months. Others may have to wear a retainer on a part-time basis indefinitely.

To ensure your teeth don’t have a chance to move back from their corrected positions, it’s important not to skip wearing your retainer. Skipping wearing your retainer once or twice isn’t likely to cause problems, but repeatedly not wearing the retainer as advised could allow for teeth to shift significantly.

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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