What Happens to Your Teeth if You Don’t Wear Your Retainer?

What Happens to Your Teeth if You Don’t Wear Your Retainer?
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What Happens to Your Teeth if You Don’t Wear Your Retainer?Clinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
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Table of Contents

  1. Teeth Shifting
  2. Factors
  3. Retreatment
  4. References

If you do not wear your retainer, your teeth can shift. The longer you don’t wear your retainer, the more your teeth can move.

Retainers are customized orthodontic appliances that can help your teeth from shifting back to their original position after finishing a treatment with braces or aligners.

The American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) states that retainers make up half of your orthodontic treatment. Your treatment does not end when the braces come off but rather can continue for life as you wear your retainer as directed.

Retainers usually do not have enough force to put your teeth back into position after they revert back to where they were before. If you keep them off your teeth for long enough, you will often need retreatment with either another set of braces or aligners.

Retainers are an important part of orthodontic treatment that help to keep your teeth straight.

Teeth Shifting Without Retainers

Your teeth will move throughout your life and braces or aligners can help to straighten them out. After treatment, retainers help to keep them in their new positions.

If you do not wear your retainer, the fibers in your gum tissue can pull your teeth back into the positions they were in before the braces or aligners forced them into the desirable places. The longer you go without wearing retainers, the more your teeth can shift.

Not wearing your retainer for a night or two is not likely to cause an issue, but if you continue to not wear it, the shift can become greater and greater. After about a week or so, it may be difficult to get your retainer to fit back into your mouth. If you do not wear your retainer for a long period of time, your teeth may end up reverting back to their initial positions.

Factors Influencing Teeth Shift

Factors Influencing Teeth Shift

The amount of movement your teeth make can depend on several factors, including:

  • How far your teeth needed to be moved in the first place.
  • Your gum and bone health. Bone loss can contribute to further teeth movement.
  • How long you have not been wearing your retainer.
  • What type of retainer you have, either fixed or removable.
  • Your age at the time of adjustment. Adolescents may be able to stop wearing retainers after 10 or so years, while adults who had braces often need to wear retainers indefinitely.

The longer it has been since you had braces or aligners, the more fixed in position your teeth may be. If you just got your braces off, your teeth are more likely to move out of place faster if you do not wear your retainer than if it has been 5 to 10 years since you had your initial orthodontic treatment. The first three months are the most critical time period to keep your retainers in place.

Retreatment After Not Wearing a Retainer

Retainers, especially fixed retainers, can help to maintain the alignment of your teeth most of the time (90 percent); however, rarely, your teeth can move even with a retainer. In these cases, your orthodontist may need to adjust your retainer or overall treatment plan.

Always wear your retainer exactly as directed, either by the aligner treatment company or your orthodontist.

If you go an entire month or more without wearing your retainer, your teeth will likely shift back to a point where you will no longer be able to fit your retainer in your mouth. At this point, you will potentially need to revisit an orthodontic treatment plan. This can include going back to braces or aligners.

Braces and aligners adjust your teeth. Retainers keep the changes in place, holding the adjustment. Retainers are a vital part of orthodontic treatment and should be used as directed.


Can Retainers Realign Your Teeth? (2021). Colgate-Palmolive Company. Date Fetched: June 23, 2021.

Inadvertent Tooth Movement with Fixed Lingual Retainers. (February 2016). American Journal of Orthodontics & Dentofacial Orthopedics. Date Fetched: June 23, 2021.

Will I Need to Wear Retainers After Treatment? (August 2019). American Association of Orthodontists (AAO).  Date Fetched: June 23, 2021.

Retainers Keep Teeth From Shifting. (2021). Stanford Children’s Health. Date Fetched: June 23, 2021.

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.