Tooth Wisdom Blog

The Braces Are Off! Now How Long Do You Have to Wear a Retainer?

Have you recently gotten your braces off? Or plan to get them off shortly? Congratulations! It’s a great feeling, finally being at the end of your treatment. Still, a lot of people in your position feel let down once they discover that they will have to wear a retainer. So you might be asking “Will I have to wear a retainer after braces? Why? And how long will I have to wear a retainer?”

While you might have to wear a retainer for some time, they are usually easier to handle than braces, and the amount of time you need to wear one is limited. Still, if you stop wearing your retainer, you risk undoing some of the progress you and your orthodontist have made!

Understanding What Retainers Are For

To see why this is the case, it helps to understand what retainers are, and why they are needed.

As defined by Wikipedia, “Orthodontic retainers are custom-made devices, usually made of wires or clear plastic, that hold teeth in position after surgery or any method of realigning teeth.”

When your orthodontic treatment is complete, the gum and bone around your teeth are not yet keeping your teeth securely in place. They do get stronger as you eat and speak, two activities that help stimulate the gum and bone.

But, as this process happens, a retainer is needed to help hold your teeth in their final position and also those forces to work to stabilize the tooth positions. Without a retainer, your teeth would slowly begin to slide back into their old positions, making your orthodontic treatment just a big waste of money.

So, if you are wondering why you need to wear a retainer, the answer is to help create a stable final result and protect your investment.

(Though be aware that your teeth will always have some tendency to move over time.)

Wearing a Retainer

Most adults and teenagers wear retainers at night and between meals for at least the few months after treatment, as it takes several months for the bone to fill in. The more you wear a retainer, the more effectively it can do its job. But, as your teeth settle into their new positions, you can gradually decrease the amount of time you wear your retainer.

Ideally, it’d be great to wear your retainers every night for the rest of your life. After all, you should want to preserve that beautiful smile that you and your orthodontist worked so hard for! But after the first year or so, even just a few nights a week for several years would be preferable to nothing at all. If you find that you have to wear the retainers all the time for your teeth to stay in place, then you should call your orthodontist immediately to have your teeth and retainers evaluated.

Importantly, retainers are not meant to move your teeth further. Meaning, after your treatment is complete, your retainers should need minimal adjustments.

So, How Long Do You Have to Wear a Retainer?

The initial months after you complete your treatment is a time when the bone and tissues are not tightly holding your teeth in position. That being said, the chances of your teeth drifting out of alignment are higher, so you need to wear a retainer as often as you can- preferably all the time, except when eating to maintain your new smile.

Even after the first month, there is a risk of losing your progress. This relapse period can be as long as a year – even longer if you had a particularly difficult and complicated case.

A good rule of thumb is that you will need your retainer just a little longer than the amount of time you had your braces in. So, if you wear your braces for two years, expect to wear your retainer just a little over two years, though you will taper back from full time to nights only to just a few nights a week and this is best a lifelong strategy to protect your smile!

Do Retainers Have to Be Worn All the Time?

No—but the more you wear it, the better.

Your orthodontist should discuss a retention plan with you when you are nearing the end of treatment. Different people naturally have different retention plans, depending on the details of their situation. For example, he or your orthodontist might recommend a fixed retainer that stays in your mouth 24/7. Or, you might receive a removable retainer to wear at night only.

In most cases, you will be instructed to wear your retainer “full time” during that sensitive first few months (taking it out only for meals) and then switch to nighttime-only after that.

Taking Care of Your Retainer

An essential part of using your retainer is maintaining and cleaning it. Removable retainers should be cleaned regularly by soaking them in a diluted denture cleaner and periodically brushing them, as you would brush your teeth. For fixed retainers, a water pick works wonders for removing stuck particles of food, and you should also floss between the teeth which the retainer spans.

If your retainer is well maintained, it can cut down on the length of time you need it (not to mention it will be more comfortable and less likely to create hygiene issues.)

If you fail to wear your retainer and your teeth begin moving, you might need orthodontic treatment again to correct them.

Other Questions About Retainers or Braces?

There is a period of adjustment after getting completing treatment and getting fitted for a retainer. If you have questions, we would love to answer them:

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