How Long Do You Really Have to Wear a Retainer?
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Table of Contents
- What Are Retainers?
- Permanent Retainer
- Wearing Retainers After Braces
- Is It for Life?
- How Many Hours per Day?
- How Many Days per Week?
- Proper Care
- Not Wearing It
- Retainer Treatment Timeline FAQs
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:
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
- 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.
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.
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:
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
How long do you have to wear a retainer after braces?
Can I stop wearing my retainer after six months?
How many years do you have to wear a retainer?
How long can I skip wearing my retainer?
Teeth Retainer. Cleveland Clinic.
Orthodontic Retainers: A Contemporary Overview. (2019). The Journal of Contemporary Dental Practice.
Teeth Retainer. Cleveland Clinic.
Inadvertent Tooth Movement With Fixed Lingual Retainers. (February 2016). American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics.
A Survey of Protocols and Trends in Orthodontic Retention. (October 2017). Progress in Orthodontics.
The Reality of Retainers. (June 2018). Nemours.
Taking Care of Your Retainer. (October 2017). American Association of Orthodontists.
Bonded Retainers. (September 2016). Dear Doctor.
You Have to Wear a Retainer. (December 2015). Medium.