A retainer is an aligner you wear after finishing orthodontic treatment. These trays help keep your teeth straight.
After your braces are removed, you will need to keep your teeth stabilized for a retention period.3 This prevents them from shifting back to how they were initially positioned.
A retainer is made of either plastic or metal. Most retainers are removable, but you can also choose a fixed retainer. A fixed (or permanent) retainer is typically a tiny metal wire adhered to the back of your teeth. Your dentist may also give you a combination of both a removable and a fixed or permanent retainer.
Wearing your retainer as prescribed is important. When it comes to removable retainers, you typically need to wear them at night while sleeping. Wearing your retainer may not feel comfortable at first, but you should get used to the feeling with time.
It is essential to wear your retainer as instructed by your orthodontist. When worn correctly and for the right amount of time each day, retainers prevent the possible shifting of teeth.7
To create a retainer, your orthodontist will take a mold of your straight teeth after you finish treatment. With that mold, they will custom make a retainer to help hold your teeth in place so they do not shift back to the original position or into a new position.
Are you interested in straightening your teeth, but don’t know where to start? Become confident in at-home aligner therapy with our crash course.
Removable retainers are generally worn every night for as long as your orthodontist tells you. Removable retainers should fit comfortably in your mouth. But there may be an adjustment period for getting used to your new removable retainer. Talk to your dentist or orthodontist if your retainer is hurting you or causing discomfort that does not subside.
On the other hand, a permanent retainer is one that you have for the rest of your life. A permanent retainer is a small metal wire that is adhered to the back of your teeth.1 You will not be able to see it or feel it, but it helps keep your teeth together. Unlike removable retainers, you cannot take out your permanent retainer.
Wearing a retainer of any kind prevents your top and bottom teeth from shifting. Retainers are essential during the first few months after you are done with braces. But some retainers are meant to stay in place for life or, at least, last for years to prevent your teeth from shifting.
While most retainers are only worn while sleeping, this isn’t always the case. Some retainers are worn throughout the day and night for a certain amount of time, like 6 months. While 6 months may feel like a long process, the long-lasting results are worth it.
Here are two different types of retainers that orthodontists recommend:
It is important to wear your retainer as prescribed to stop your teeth from retreating back to how they were before braces. If you do not wear your retainer, your teeth can also shift into new positions.
Your teeth can become crooked again over time, leading to an increased risk of oral health issues like cavities and gum disease. Misaligned teeth are more difficult to clean.
Most retainers should last for years. However, some orthodontists recommend switching them out every 6 months to prevent oral health issues.
Patients should talk to their orthodontist to determine how long they need to wear a retainer after braces. Some people may be advised to wear a retainer every night for life to maintain their smile. Others may need to wear a retainer full-time for a few months to keep their teeth in place.
Invisalign is a brand of clear aligners that are used instead of traditional metal braces.5 You wear a series of ‘invisible’ removable aligners over time, and they gradually straighten your teeth.
On average, Invisalign treatment takes 12 to 18 months. This period could be longer or shorter. You’ll wear a retainer for the same amount of time as braces after Invisalign treatment.
How many hours a day you need to wear your retainer depends on the type of retainer. You may be expected to wear clear retainers throughout the day, while others are only worn at night. Meanwhile, a fixed retainer is a permanent wire glued to your teeth, so you always wear it.
Read our clear aligners vs braces comparison to learn which treatment is better for you.
Generally, you should wear your retainer full-time for the first few months after having your braces removed. After two or three months, you will only need it at night.4
A permanent retainer is exactly that: permanent. Permanent retainers should last you forever but they may need to be replaced if you break them. A permanent retainer can be removed and replaced if necessary.
A plastic retainer may need to be replaced more often. Some retainers should be replaced every few months to a year. It largely depends on how well you take care of it.
Clean a removable retainer as frequently as you wear it. When you are done wearing your retainer, take it out and brush it with toothpaste like you would brush your teeth. You should also brush it before use.6
A fixed retainer can cause hygiene problems because it is more difficult to floss. Use an interproximal flosser or a water flosser to clean between the teeth. Check with your dentist if you need more frequent hygiene visits since plaque can build up.
It is also important to keep your retainer in a case if it is removable. Avoid dropping it in your bag or a purse, as it can become damaged and dirty. You should also avoid heat, as it can warp.6
“Retainer.” Dental Associates.
“Types of Retainers.” Dental Associates.
“Dental Braces.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 21 May 2019.
“How to Live Your Best Life With Dental Retainers.” ADA Marketplace - American Dental Association.
“Invisalign FAQs.” Invisalign.
“Taking Care of Retainers.” American Association of Orthodontists, 11 Nov. 2020.
“Will I Need to Wear Retainers?” American Association of Orthodontists, 13 Jan. 2020.