LAST UPDATED: FEBRUARY 28, 2017
How Long Should Someone Wear a Retainer after Braces are Removed?
It’s the first question a patient asks after their braces come off, we’ve celebrated the momentous occasion, and handed him a retainer: How long do I have to wear my retainer?
It’s a good and valid question.
I’ll highlight the type of retainer used most often, why retainers are so important and how long you need to wear them.
When are retainers used most often?
Orthodontists use the clear plastic retainers most often. Even though there are retainers with a metal wire that go across the front of the teeth, there’s nothing worse than getting your braces off and having an orthodontist put a metal wire in your mouth, saying, “You have to wear this full time for a few months.” So, we use the clear plastic retainer, which fits snuggly around the teeth. It won’t allow the teeth move or turn and, it doesn’t irritate the tongue and lips. When it comes to speaking it usually only takes a day or two to adjust.
Why are retainers so important?
Retainers are important because when you get your braces off, they moved the teeth into a position they’re not naturally accustomed to. Your teeth were crooked for a reason. Most likely, your mouth and its natural habitat (your tongue, lips and cheeks) caused your teeth to go into the position they were in initially. Now we’ve put the teeth in almost an unnatural position, a position they didn’t want to be in at first. So the teeth and mouth have to adapt to the change. The retainer keeps teeth in place as the tongue, lips and cheeks adjust to their placement. And, the teeth reorganize themselves in the bones and almost “solidify.”
How long should you wear a retainer?
We ask you to wear your retainer full-time for three months, when the teeth tend to move the quickest. You can take the retainer out to eat, to brush your teeth, and for special occasions (i.e., big dates and public speeches). But other than that, you should wear it at least 22-23 hours a day. You’ll notice if you take it out, the teeth will move quickly. After about three months, if everything looks good, we’ll switch you to nighttime wear. Then, you don’t have to worry about taking the retainer in and out at lunch, school, or work. You can just pop it in when you go to bed, take it out in the morning, and your teeth should remain in place.
Do you have to wear a retainer for the rest of your life?
If you want a 100% guarantee that your teeth won’t budge, the only option is to wear the retainer. Some people can eventually stop wearing their retainers. Others will wear retainers more, due to teeth placement and the natural environment of the mouth. After about a year of wearing the retainers at night, I tell patients, “Now it’s your turn to be the orthodontist.” When you take the retainer in and out, you want it to feel passive on your teeth. You don’t want that tight feeling to let you know your teeth moved during the day and you need to wear your retainer more.
If you have that passive feeling when taking the retainer in and out, then you can wear it less and slowly wear it off . You can go from wearing it once a week to a couple of times a month to once a month, but, I caution you to always keep it around and try it on to ensure that passive feeling isn’t gone. Unfortunately, if you do see movement, it’s usually too late to fix it with the retainer.
Overall, most people are okay with wearing retainers at night. After all, why not continue wearing the retainers at night, so you know the years spent getting your teeth really nice wasn’t a total waste? Let’s face it–there’s nothing worse than having a patient return, (after working so hard to have his teeth look nicer) because his teeth shifted from not wearing the retainer enough.
Feel free to contact Beecroft Orthodontics whenever you want information or help regarding any oral problem you might be experiencing.
Beecroft Orthodontics, 10472 Georgetown Dr. Fredericksburg, Virginia
Braces Treatment: Retainers Phase