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Updated on November 28, 2022

What Happens if You Don't Wear Your Retainer After Braces?

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Risks of Not Wearing Your Retainers for a Month

Retainers help keep teeth in their new position while the bone regrows after orthodontic treatment. People often wear retainers after wearing braces or undergoing jaw surgery

Even after bones that stabilize teeth regrow, they continue to break down and rebuild over time. Teeth continuously change position due to forces from everyday activities, such as chewing.

Most orthodontists require people to wear their retainers nightly for them to work in preventing teeth from shifting. If you do not wear your retainers for a month, your teeth may shift back to their original position. 

Although nothing can guarantee that teeth will stay in their new place, retainers are the best option for preventing or limiting tooth movement.

How Long Do You Need to Wear a Retainer After Braces?

Some people have permanent retainers bonded (glued) to the inside of the upper and lower teeth to keep the teeth aligned. Others need to wear retainers only at night.

After braces, wearing retainers must become part of your nightly oral hygiene routine. Place them on your teeth after brushing and flossing.

What if Your Retainer Doesn’t Fit?

Contact your orthodontist if your retainer doesn’t fit or feels uncomfortable. The longer you wear a retainer that doesn’t fit, the more likely your teeth will shift.

Wearing a poorly fitted retainer can also cause:

  • Damage to the gum tissue, teeth, or tongue
  • Teeth repositioning
  • Cheek irritation

Never try to fix an ill-fitting retainer at home. This can damage the retainer and may cause additional problems to your mouth and teeth.

How Fast Can Teeth Shift?

Your teeth can shift even after a short period of not wearing a retainer.

After a week of not wearing a retainer, your teeth may:

  • Undergo minor shifting or tooth relapse 
  • Slightly rotate
  • Develop small spaces or gaps between them

After a month of not wearing a retainer, you may:

  • Require additional orthodontic work to realign your bite
  • Develop or redevelop conditions like an underbite, crossbite, or overbite
  • Experience tooth relapse

After a year of not wearing a retainer, your teeth may:

  • Return to their original position
  • Crowd together 
  • Collapse inward toward the tongue

You’ll likely need a new retainer if you don’t wear it for a few months to a year.

What to Do if You Lose Your Retainer

Contact your orthodontist as soon as possible if you lose your retainer. Your orthodontist or dentist can often reorder a new retainer quickly.

What to Do if You Haven’t Worn Your Retainer for a Month or More

If you find your retainer or decide to start wearing it again, try putting it on.

Talk to an orthodontist if the retainer feels uncomfortable, loose, too tight, or causes pain. Your teeth may have shifted too much for your retainer to work properly. An orthodontist can make you a new one.

When is Retreatment Necessary? 

If your teeth have shifted significantly, or if your retainer continues to feel too tight, you may need to undergo repositioning treatments. This might include wearing braces.

Summary

Most orthodontists recommend people wear a retainer after finishing certain orthodontic treatments. This ensures the teeth stay in place and do not reposition back to their original position.

Most people wear their retainer every night. Depending on the orthodontist's recommendation, this may last several months, years, or even a lifetime.

After not wearing your retainer for a month or more, your teeth will shift back to their original position. This might result in redeveloped overbites, crossbites, or underbites.

If you lose your retainer or it does not fit properly, talk to your orthodontist about getting a replacement or adjusting it.

3 Sources Cited
Last updated on November 28, 2022
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. American Association of Orthodontists. “Taking care of retainers,” 2017.
  2. American Association of Orthodontists. “Will I Need to Wear Retainers After Treatment?” 2019.
  3. Shirck Orthodontics. “What Happens if You Forget to Wear Your Retainer?” 2020.
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