What to Do if Your Retainer Doesn’t Fit

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Table of Contents

  1. Reasons They Stop Fitting
  2. Don't Try This at Home
  3. What to Do if Retainer Doesn’t Fit
  4. Retainer Look & Feel
  5. What If You Don’t Get Help
  6. Frequently Asked Questions

If your retainer doesn’t fit, reach out and take it back to your dentist or orthodontist. They can usually craft or order a new retainer for you to start using again.

If your teeth have moved a lot and become misaligned, you may be a candidate for clear aligners to straighten them again.

A retainer is an orthodontic device that is made to help keep teeth straight. They are rarely, if ever, used on their own. 

They are usually prescribed in combination with braces or aligners or as a follow-up to either treatment.1 

Typically, retainers are the final phase of orthodontic procedures. After your treatment to straighten your teeth is complete, your dentist or orthodontist will give you retainers to make sure that your newly positioned teeth do not shift back into their original positions. 

In most cases, patients have to wear their retainers only at night. Doing so complements (and reinforces) the work already being done by the braces or clear aligners.

What to do if your retainer doesn’t fit: A step-by-step plan

If your retainer isn’t fitting properly, don’t ignore the problem. Taking quick action can ensure that your smile stays as healthy as possible.

Here’s what to do if your retainer doesn’t fit:

  1. Make an appointment. Contact your orthodontist or aligner treatment company and ask for help. You can’t fix your retainer at home, so you’ll need to connect with your dental professional as soon as possible.

  2. Ask for advice. When you make your appointment, ask the team what you should do in the interim. Should you wear a backup retainer? Is there something else you should try? The team will give you the answers you need.

  3. Keep your retainer. Don’t throw it away! Your dental professional will ask to see it when you go to your appointment.

How should a retainer look & feel?

You can’t accurately determine if your retainer isn’t fitting until you know what it should look and feel like. While every retainer is a little different, most share common traits you can use to assess their fit.

A well-fitting retainer has the following characteristics:

  • Snug fit: The retainer should glide over your teeth and stay there. You shouldn’t feel it slip and slide around your teeth.

  • Easy to put on: If you have a removable retainer, you shouldn’t need much force to put it on. If you have to press hard to slip it on your teeth, it’s no longer fitting right.

  • Relatively comfortable: Your retainer might exert mild pressure on your teeth, but it shouldn’t cause intense pain.

  • Structurally sound: Your retainer shouldn’t be warped, cracked, or broken. Nothing should poke your mouth when you wear it. 

If you’re not sure if your retainer is fitted properly, ask your dental professional for help. Bring your device to your appointment and put it on while your team watches. You’ll get good feedback about whether the retainer is still working or if you need a new one.

What happens if you don’t get help?

It is important that you only wear your retainer if it fits properly and comfortably. Trying to wear your retainer when it isn’t fitting properly can be dangerous.

Forcing a retainer onto your teeth could chip or damage them. If you do manage to get the retainer into your mouth, the excessive pressure the retainer places on your teeth could cause pain or unexpected movement.

Forcing a retainer into your mouth could crack the device too. The hard plastic or sharp wires could cut or scrape your mouth, and those injuries can be painful.

You might be tempted to stop wearing a retainer until you have time to make an appointment. This isn’t smart. Waiting too long could allow your teeth to shift. You might need to use braces or aligners again to straighten them.

Reasons retainers stop fitting

Why might your retainer not be fitting properly anymore? Some reasons include:

Your teeth shifted over time and are in a different position

If you have not worn your retainer for a long time, your teeth may shift in their position. This means the old retainer will no longer fit your teeth and dental arch.

You should ask your dentist or orthodontist about getting a retainer that is sized for your teeth’s current positioning. This will likely continue until your teeth have settled into their desired positions for the long term. 

Improper use & storage of your retainer

Be careful when you insert your retainer. Trying to force it into your mouth will almost certainly damage it.

You should also have been given a case for your retainer. Make sure to put your retainer in this case when you’re not using it since the case is designed to help the retainer keep its shape when not being used. 

Eating foods that can compromise the integrity of the retainer’s wire

Some foods can damage the inside surface of the wire, causing the metal to wear down faster than normal. 

If you eat a lot of popcorn and pretzels, this might be why your retainer isn’t fitting as well as it used to. There are salt crystals in pretzels that corrode metal over time, weakening the integrity of the wire. Popcorn can get stuck in your retainer, and fragments of the popcorn can also break down your wire. 

Your dentist or orthodontist will likely advise you to avoid pretzels and popcorn for however long you have to wear your retainer.

Don’t try this at home

Even though a retainer not fitting properly anymore is not a serious problem, do not try to “fix” your current retainer at home. 

A dentist or orthodontist is the only person who is qualified to set you up with a retainer that works well with your teeth. You may find a lot of information online about how to make retainer adjustments at home, but if you make a mistake with resetting your retainer, you could damage the enamel on your teeth. This can be very painful and expensive to fix. 

It might also be the case that your retainer has simply not been inserted into your mouth correctly. The more often you take your retainer out and put it back in, the more likely it is that you just didn’t reinsert it correctly. 

The retainer is supposed to go completely in your mouth, far back enough so the tip of the retainer can hold onto your gums and keep your teeth in position. You should still ask your dentist, orthodontist, or aligner company for help with properly fitting your retainer, but you might still be able to get some use out of your retainer before it’s time to swap it out.

Understand how retainers work

All retainers are designed to keep your teeth in their ideal position when your orthodontic treatment is complete. However, every type is a little different. Understanding what sets them apart is an important part of caring for your oral health. 

Here’s what you need to know about common types of retainers based on information from the American Association of Orthodontists.

Clear plastic

If you’ve used aligners to straighten your teeth, you’re accustomed to the look and feel of clear plastic retainers. These trays fit over your upper and lower teeth, and they have no wires or metal parts.

Clear plastic retainers can’t be adjusted or shifted if they don’t fit anymore. Instead, your dentist can make a new set of trays you can use as retainers.


Hawley retainers are made of hard plastic and metal wire. The plastic piece sits on the roof of your mouth, and the wire surrounds your teeth.

Hawley retainers can be adjusted and tightened with special dentistry tools. If your retainer isn’t fitting, your dental professional may be able to fix it instead of making you a new one. However, if your teeth have moved a lot, you may need a new retainer instead.


A fixed retainer is a slender wire that’s glued or bonded to the inside of your upper or lower teeth. These retainers are meant to last a lifetime, and they can’t be removed at home. It’s rare for these retainers to stop fitting unless they’ve broken or come loose from your teeth.

Permanent retainers can’t be adjusted, but they can be replaced. If they’re broken, see your dental professional immediately to avoid injuries from the wire.

Frequently Asked Questions

These are some questions we hear most about how retainers fit:

No, you should not wear your retainer if it doesn’t fit. Your retainer is custom-molded for the shape of your teeth. 

If you notice that your retainer isn’t fitting as snugly as it should, stop wearing it and tell your dentist or orthodontist. If you got your retainer from a clear aligner company, contact them.

It’s not bad at all. Retainers commonly get out of shape after a few months of regular use. 

This could mean that your teeth are shifting into their desired positions, and the retainer you were given at the start of this phase of your orthodontic treatment has outlived its use. It can also mean that your teeth have moved out of their desired positions.

You might still need a new retainer, so tell your dentist, orthodontist, or the aligner company as soon as you notice that your retainer isn’t fitting as it should.

A retainer should fit snugly onto your teeth and gums, with just a little bit of give, so it doesn’t feel too tight or constricting. If your retainer feels too loose or too tight, if you have to force your retainer into position, or if you find yourself constantly readjusting your retainer, you’ll know that it’s gone out of shape.

While a retainer will inevitably lose its fit, you can prolong the life of your retainer by being careful with its use and storage. Also, avoid eating foods that can affect the retainer’s wiring, like candy or pretzels.

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.