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Updated on January 26, 2023
5 min read

How Long Do You Have to Wear a Retainer?

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What is a Retainer?

A retainer is a custom-shaped device that holds your teeth in place after orthodontic treatment. Generally made from metal or plastic, a retainer helps maintain the results achieved by braces or clear aligners.

When you finish a course of treatment with braces or aligners, your teeth are still at risk of gradually becoming crooked again. An orthodontic retainer ensures that your teeth keep their new positions.

Wearing your retainer is especially important during the first few months after braces or aligner removal. As time passes, you’ll be able to wear your retainer less.

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Permanent vs. Removable Retainers

Retainers can be either permanent (fixed) or removable. The type you need will depend on your specific orthodontic treatment. 

Here are the main features of each kind:

  • A permanent or fixed retainer is a wire attached behind your teeth with dental bonding glue. These retainers aren’t truly permanent, but they can last for years. They’re most often applied to the bottom teeth.
  • A removable retainer can be made of either metal or plastic. No matter the material, these retainers can easily be removed for eating and cleaning. They’re designed to last at least a few months.
  • Both kinds of retainers have the same purpose; to protect the results of your braces or aligner treatment.

How Long Do You Have to Wear a Retainer?

Orthodontists generally advise wearing your retainer for at least as long as you have braces or clear aligners. At first, this will mean wearing it more or less all day. As time goes on, you’ll be able to taper down.

After the first 3 to 6 months, your orthodontist may only recommend wearing your retainer at night. If you have a permanent retainer, this may be the time that it gets removed and replaced with a removable one.

Will I Need to Wear a Retainer Forever?

If your teeth were misaligned before orthodontic treatment, you might be advised to keep your retainer indefinitely. Wearing it nightly may be ideal for maintaining your treatment results over the years.

If you only had minor teeth alignment needs, wearing your retainer long-term may not be as important. Your orthodontist will make recommendations based on your specific situation.

Retainers After Braces vs. Invisalign

Orthodontic treatment can take the form of braces or clear aligners such as Invisalign. Both options vary in treatment length, from 6 months to 2 years.

Whichever treatment you received, you can expect to wear your retainers nightly to maintain results. 

It’s also possible that you’ll be given a retainer following orthognathic surgery. Be sure to follow your oral surgeon’s instructions on how long you need to wear the retainer.

How Many Hours a Day Should I Wear My Retainer?

You'll be advised to wear your retainer around the clock for the first few months after you get your braces or aligners removed.

If your retainer is removable, you’ll wear it for about 22 hours a day, taking it out only for cleaning and eating (similar to clear aligners). If your retainer is permanent, it will always remain in place.

This only applies to those first 3 to 6 months. After that, you’ll only need to wear your retainer during sleep. 

When Should You Replace a Retainer?

If you break or lose your retainer, you should schedule an appointment to have a new one made as soon as possible.

Aside from losing or breaking your retainer, some retainers require you to change them every 6 months or every couple of years depending on the material.  

Your orthodontist will likely provide you with a replacement schedule when you first get your retainer. You may have one or more follow-up appointments, or you may be able to have replacement retainers mailed to you.

Risks of Not Wearing a Retainer

If you don’t wear your retainer as directed, your teeth may be at risk of gradually shifting back out of alignment.

You may feel like it took a long time for your braces or aligners to do their job. But from the point of view of your gum and bone tissues, it was a relatively fast process.

These tissues surrounding your teeth still need time to strengthen and adjust to the new positions of your teeth. Wearing your retainer gives them that time. If you don’t wear it as required, your gum and bone tissues won’t have the support they need.

This could potentially undo the results of your orthodontic treatment, requiring you to undergo treatment again to fix your teeth. To make your time and money worth it, wear your retainer.

How to Care for Your Retainers

If you have a removable retainer, do the following to keep your retainer clean and in good condition:

  • Clean your retainer before and after every use. Brush it with toothpaste like you would brush your teeth.
  • Keep your retainer in its case when not wearing it. Leaving it exposed in a bag or purse could get it dirty or lead to damage.
  • Store your retainer and its case away from excess heat. If your retainer gets too hot, it may warp.

If your retainer is permanent (fixed), you won’t need to worry about cleaning and storing it separately. But you still need to take proper care to ensure good dental hygiene. 

Keep the following in mind:

  • Fixed retainers make it more difficult to floss. Use an interproximal flosser or a water flosser to clean between your teeth.
  • Your retainer may make some parts of your teeth hard to keep clean, leading to plaque buildup. Check with your dentist if you need more frequent hygiene visits.

Summary

A retainer is an orthodontic device worn after treatment with braces or clear aligners or after jaw surgery. It holds your teeth in new positions, allowing the surrounding gums and bones to adjust.

Wearing your retainer nightly is ideal for maintaining your treatment results over the years.

If you are undergoing (or have already undergone) orthodontic treatment, follow your orthodontist’s instructions on wearing your retainer. Not doing so could harm the results of your treatment.

Last updated on January 26, 2023
7 Sources Cited
Last updated on January 26, 2023
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. Types of Retainers.” Dental Associates.
  2. How to Live Your Best Life With Dental Retainers.” American Dental Association.
  3. Invisalign FAQs.” Invisalign.
  4. Taking Care of Retainers.” American Association of Orthodontists.
  5. Will I Need to Wear Retainers?” American Association of Orthodontists.
  6. Kartal, Yasemin, and Burçak Kaya. “Fixed Orthodontic Retainers: A Review.” Turkish Journal of Orthodontics, 2019.
  7. Jedliński, Maciej, et al. "What causes failure of fixed orthodontic retention? – systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical studies." Head & Face Medicine, 2021.
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