What to Do if Your Retainer Doesn’t Fit

Clinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
Last Modified:

Table of Contents

  1. Not Fitting Properly?
  2. Reasons They Stop Fitting
  3. What to Do
  4. Don't Try This at Home

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.

My retainer isn’t fitting properly…

You might notice that your retainer isn’t fitting properly anymore. This is not a serious issue, and it can be easily rectified by your dentist or orthodontist.2 

How will you know if your retainer isn’t fitting properly anymore? All you have to do is carefully place the retainer in your mouth, and check to see that it fits into place. 

If your retainer is fitted correctly, it will feel snug and then loosen up a little to allow you a little comfort. If it feels like you have to force your retainer into place, or it feels like your retainer is too tight, you should see your dentist or orthodontist. 

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, at best, painful. At worst, you might end up damaging your teeth or your retainer.

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.

Steps to take if your retainer stops fitting

If you discover that your retainer isn’t fitting like it should, the first thing you should do is make an appointment with your dentist or orthodontist. Do this as soon as possible. 

Waiting too long might mean that your teeth have reverted too far back to their original positions. You might need to resume a longer form of orthodontic care to get back to the point where you can use just a retainer. 

Getting a new retainer is the next step. Once you start using a retainer, you need to keep using it until your dentist or orthodontist directs you otherwise. If your current retainer isn’t working with your teeth anymore, you should replace it as soon as you can. 

Don’t get rid of your old retainer. Take it with you to your dentist or orthodontist’s office. This will help them help you choose a new one, and it will also give them the opportunity to show you how to put it in. 

If your retainer doesn’t fit, this might actually be a blessing in disguise. You should change your retainer often because there is a direct correlation between how regularly a patient changes their retainer and how effective it will be in keeping their teeth from shifting back to tier original positions (before being straightened or tweaked with braces, aligners, or other forms of orthodontic treatment). 

After you get fitted for your new retainer, ask your dentist, orthodontist, or the aligner company when you should swap it out for a new one.

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.

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.