How Long Do You Have to Wear a Retainer?

by Laura C. Jones
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Most people desire the straight white teeth of a “Hollywood smile” but dread the hassle associated with wearing a retainer. Still, in the United States alone, over four million people sport an orthodontic device. So, how long do you have to wear a retainer, and what exactly does it do?

What Are Retainers?

Custom-made to suit the needs of the individual, retainers reap both dental health and cosmetic dentistry benefits. Often worn after traditional metal braces or as part of an Invisalign procedure, retainers are orthodontic devices designed to “retain” tooth positioning acquired through orthodontic work. Therefore, retainers prevent teeth from shifting.

Why Do You Need a Retainer?

Since teeth always remember and try to return to their original positions, it is vital to wear a retainer. Common reasons people need a retainer include bite correction, crowding or gaps, protrusion, crookedness, and misalignments. As teeth undergo “mesial drift,” the retainer prevents undesirable shifting, forcing them to adjust to their new positioning in the jawbone while simultaneously letting the slower tissue acclimate to the move.

3 Different Types of Retainers

different types of retainers

The three main types of retainers are removable Hawley retainers, removable Essix or Vivera retainers, and fixed permanent retainers.

Hawley retainers are often one piece made of acrylic and metal, while Essix and Vivera retainers are made of thick plastic and generally come in two parts (one tray for the top teeth and one for the bottom). Permanent retainers tend to be metal and fixed, usually attached in a hidden spot behind the teeth.

How Often Do You Need to Wear Your Retainer?

The amount of time you need to wear your retainer depends on your dental issues and treatment progress. Since people with fixed retainers wear them constantly, they are given a specific treatment schedule from their health provider. Those with removable retainers should wear them around 22 hours per day, only removing the retainers to eat, drink anything besides water, and brush and floss.

How Long Do You Have to Wear a Retainer?

how long do you have to wear a retainer

Typically patients with removable retainers should wear them at least 22 hours a day for the first 3-6 months, then every night while they sleep indefinitely (although after three years, skipping a few nights a week is acceptable). Those with permanent, fixed retainers should follow their physician’s guidance. Sometimes permanent retainers need to be worn indefinitely as well.

What Happens If You Don’t Wear Your Retainer?

While you should expect slight dental shifting and settling, not wearing your retainer as instructed can result in wasted investments and losing corrections from previous work. For these reasons, it is essential to wear your retainer and replace or repair broken retainers immediately, as even a short delay often results in upended progress. Some patients may even need to repeat the orthodontic treatment.

Retainer Care

retainer care

Excellent retainer care is essential to maintaining great dental hygiene, cultivating comfort, and possibly even reducing treatment length. Keep removable retainers away from pets and children and store them in a portable case when not in your mouth.

Avoid staining and tooth decay by never eating or drinking anything besides water while wearing your removable retainer. Brush removable retainers with hydrogen peroxide or soak them daily in a retainer/denture cleaning product. Those with fixed retainers should invest in a specialized floss threader or a water flossing device to prevent damage caused by plaque and tartar build-up.