Life After Treatment: How Long Do
You Have To Wear A Retainer?

It’s an exciting time. You have just finished up your orthodontic treatment, whether that was traditional braces or Invisalign clear aligners, and you’re proud to smile again. It is a safe bet that you want to keep that smile. The best way to make that happen and protect the investment you made in orthodontic treatment is with retainers.

Now, you may be wondering exactly what is a retainer? Why do I have to wear one? Or how long do you have to wear a retainer? It is important to understand these things so that you don’t risk undoing all of the great progress that you and your orthodontist have made with your smile.

What Is A Retainer?

The number one way to ensure your teeth do not return to their original position before your treatment was started is through the use of a retainer. As described by the American Association Of Orthodontics (AAO), a retainer is “an appliance worn after braces are removed or aligner therapy is complete. A retainer is fitted to upper and/or lower teeth to hold them in their finished positions.”

There are two different types of retainers: removable and fixed. Removable retainers are often the most commonly used type and can be easily taken out and put back in when you are eating or cleaning them. One kind of removable retainer is made of a plastic-like material that goes against the roof of your mouth or behind your lower front teeth. Then a wire runs along the front of your teeth to help hold them in place. There is also the option of a clear plastic removable retainer that is custom made to fit over your teeth and is almost invisible. If you are prescribed a removable retainer you will receive instruction on how to insert, remove, and care for your retainer from your orthodontist.

Fixed retainers, made up of a custom-fitted, thin wire are in place 24/7 after being bonded the back of your teeth. You’ll also receive care instructions from your orthodontist regarding this type of retainer.

Why Retainers Are So Important

When your active orthodontic treatment is complete, the bones around your teeth as well as your gums are still somewhat soft and are not keeping your teeth securely in place yet. These things need time to strengthen and your teeth need time to settle into their final, desired position.

Even after your teeth have settled into that position, it’s important to remember that your teeth move throughout your entire lifetime. That is why a retainer is critical in helping your teeth stay in that desired position immediately after active treatment is completed as well as over the long term. Retainers maintain the beautiful smile that you invested both time and money into and prevent your teeth from shifting out of alignment again.

How Long Do You Have To Wear A Retainer?

The retention plan will vary from person to person depending on the type of orthodontic treatment plan used and the necessary retainer type. The initial months after your active treatment plan are the most critical. This is when the gum and bone around your teeth are strengthening to be able to stabilize teeth in place and need the support of the retainer the most.

Most orthodontists will recommend that a retainer be worn for at least 1 year after your active treatment is completed. Usually, during the first 4-6 months, the retainer will be worn full time except during eating and when cleaning your retainer. Then, if your orthodontist doesn’t detect any movement in your teeth, you will move to only wearing the retainer at night. (Unless, of course, your orthodontist has prescribed a fixed retainer.)

At this point, many people end up wearing their retainer at night as a lifelong strategy to protect the alignment of their teeth. Wearing a retainer would then become a regular part of your nightly oral hygiene routine.

Think of it as the more you wear a retainer, the more effectively it can maintain your smile.

Keeping Your Retainer Clean & Maintained

Taking care of your retainer and keeping it clean is essential. Removable retainers should be cleaned regularly by soaking them either in distilled water with denture cleaning tablets or a mixture of baking soda and distilled water. After soaking, make sure to brush the retainer with toothpaste. To help make sure your removable retainer stays as clean as possible don’t let it dry out. It should always either be in your mouth or soaking.

For fixed retainers, the use of a water pick at home and flossing between the teeth will help remove stuck food particles and keep the retainer clean. Regular checkups with your dentist are also important to make sure the teeth are free of tartar, plaque, and cavities.

Taking care of your retainer will help keep it comfortable and less likely to create any hygiene issues.

Maintain Your Smile After Orthodontic Treatment With Retainers

With any orthodontic treatment, no matter if it is traditional braces or clear aligners, most orthodontists will recommend you wear a retainer after you finish treatment to maintain your smile. The last thing you want to do is go back to where you started from and not have a straight, beautiful smile anymore. Make sure you follow your orthodontist’s instructions on wearing your retainer and how to care for a retainer.

By working with your trusted orthodontist here at Cook & Gutsche Orthodontics, you can be sure that you will get the best in orthodontic treatment, as well as the knowledge and guidance to maintain a smile you are proud of for life.

If you have any other questions about retainers or life after your treatment, don’t hesitate to contact us. We are here to help!