How Long Do I Have to Wear My Retainer and Why?

So you’ve finished your orthodontic treatment and your smile is stunningly beautiful – now what? Next, your orthodontist will set you up with a retainer to wear after you finish your treatment. Regardless of if you got treatment with braces or with Invisalign, you will need to wear a retainer once your teeth have been straightened. The question is, how long do you need to wear it? Here’s the short answer: As long as you want your teeth to remain straight, you should be wearing your retainers.

It is recommended you wear your retainer at least 12 hours out of every day for the first eight weeks following the completion of your treatment. This diligent wear is crucial after your teeth have been moved to a new position because the teeth are the least stable during this time and are more susceptible to shifting. After eight weeks of wearing your retainers for half of each day, with the approval of your orthodontist, you can begin wearing your retainers at night only. Wearing them more often than just at night is never a bad thing though, as long as you’re taking them out to eat and cleaning them properly.

Teeth are pretty dynamic, so unless they are held in place, they will continue to shift over time. You obviously don’t want your perfect smile to shift, so retainers are the solution. Studies show teeth will continue to shift throughout your entire life, not just after treatment, so just getting braces or Invisalign does not guarantee a perfect smile for life.

Why Do I Need a Retainer?

Though your smile may be exactly how you imagined, there is another step needed for your mouth to get used to your orthodontic treatment. Appliances such as braces or Invisalign may seem like the only tools necessary for a beautiful, healthy smile, but a retainer is required to help your teeth accept their new positions. If you find yourself not using this appliance, you run the risk of having your teeth revert back to their original orientation. Teeth are very prone to moving, and it’s not uncommon for patients who don’t use their retainer to have to go through another round of treatment because their teeth have become crooked or crowded again. 

Nightly Wear

You should wear your retainers nightly for at least a year. After that, you can shift your wear to every other night or so. After a few years, most individuals choose to wear theirs at night around three to five times a week. Some people’s teeth shift more than others, so whatever routine you get in, you should make sure that it is the best one for you. If you find your retainers feel tight when you put them on, that can be a sign that your teeth are shifting while your retainers are out, and you might need to start wearing them a bit more frequently.

Different Types of Retainers

There are three different kinds of retainers, and the rules for wear essentially apply to each of them. The first is called a Hawley retainer and is made of acrylic and metal. The second is called an Essix retainer and looks just like an Invisalign aligner tray, albeit a little more sturdy and durable. The last kind is a permanent retainer, which does not technically have to be worn for a certain amount of time each day because it’s glued to the back of your teeth and isn’t removable. No matter what kind of retainer you have, they all serve the same function: to keep your teeth straight. They are crucial in making sure all of that time and money you spent straightening your teeth doesn’t go to waste.

Replacing Your Retainer

Because holding your teeth in place creates stress on your retainer, most of these types of retainers need to be regularly exchanged. With a Hawley or Essix, it’s important to exchange your retainer when you notice it getting scratched, loose, or cloudy. Having a dirty or worn out retainer is about as useful as not having one at all, and it’s important to stay on top of this part of your treatment. 

With a permanent retainer on the other hand, the need for replacement is determined by how well you take care of it. Properly cared for, a permanent retainer can last up to ten years. 

If you have not been diligent with wearing your retainer, it’s important to schedule an appointment with your orthodontist so they can track how much shifting has occurred and to get you a replacement as soon as possible. It’s not uncommon for patients to lose their retainer, and it’s better to replace this appliance rather than hide from your orthodontist or avoid treatment. If it hasn’t been too long, it’s possible you could qualify for Invisalign Express rather than needing to completely restart treatment. 

To make getting replacement retainers as convenient as possible, Milnor Orthodontics offers a retainer subscription, which sends new retainers annually, twice a year, or however often you want.

Hygiene

With each type of retainer, it’s important to know why and how to clean your retainer. Without the proper cleaning method, you run the risk of introducing bacteria and plaque to what could be a perfectly clean mouth. Having straight teeth isn’t all it takes for a beautiful smile, it’s important to stay on top of hygiene and maintenance. Removable retainers are susceptible to warping under hot water, so be sure to use lukewarm water and thoroughly scrub with a soft toothbrush. 

Permanent retainers obviously can’t be rinsed under water or placed in a cleaning solution. Instead, use a floss threader at least once a day and be sure to be especially diligent with dental cleaning appointments, as this type of container is cleaned most thoroughly using special tools.

Getting a bright and beautiful smile is definitely something to celebrate, but in order to keep it intact, you’ll need to wear your retainers for the remainder of your life. It sounds daunting, but once you get into the habit of wearing them, it’s not a big deal at all. Besides, your smile is worth it!

At Milnor Orthodontics, our experts are here to help you achieve a priceless smile. Call our office at (970) 230-3187 or visit milnororthodontics.com to learn more. We're located at 1103 S. Shields St. in Fort Collins, Colorado.