I Have a Broken Permanent Retainer – Now What?
By Dr. Tyler Coles – Premier Orthodontics
Table of Contents
Permanent retainers work great to keep your teeth aligned after braces or Invisalign treatment. While convenient and effective, a broken permanent retainer is something that can happen from time to time.
In this article we’ll outline everything you need to know about broken permanent retainers, including the best way to have them repaired.
Why Do Permanent Retainers Break?
This happens because permanent retainers are bonded to the back side of the teeth with a material called dental composite. This bonding material acts similarly to a white filling material that dentists use to fix cavities. While very strong, dental composite likely won’t last forever. Over time the composite may:
- Get thinner after repeated abrasions from chewing and brushing
- Become debonded from the teeth due to a large impact (like getting hit in the mouth with a basketball)
- Fracture after one bites into a hard object directly on the retainer (like biting on ice)
Additionally, the wire part of the permanent retainer can also lose its strength over time and eventually break.
A well-bonded permanent retainer can last for years (some people can have them for over 20 years without any issues). But for some, maintenance or repair may be needed every couple of years.
Some individuals will be more prone to permanent retainers debonding. Here are some factors that can lead to a broken permanent retainer:
- Biting directly on or near their permanent retainer
- Having fillings or crowns placed on the front teeth (which leads to a less ideal bonding surface)
- Having less than ideal enamel quality for dental bonding
- Repeatedly chewing on ice or other hard objects
Is a Broken Permanent Retainer an Emergency Situation?
If your permanent retainer breaks, most of the time it is not something extremely urgent. You will likely feel a loose or broken wire or you will feel a shift in one of your composite bonds. If you notice something like this however, you should reach out to your orthodontist to have it repaired in a timely manner.
If this happens in the evening or on a weekend it’s fine to wait until the next business day to have it repaired. Even if you’re out of town when your permanent retainer breaks, you should be able to wait a couple of days to get in for a repair.
We advise that you don’t want to wait weeks or months to fix a broken permanent retainer. If you wait too long, you may risk some unwanted dental movement.
If the wire of the permanent retainer starts poking your tongue or bothering you before you can get it repaired, simply use a pencil eraser and push it back towards your teeth so it is less bothersome. That is usually effective until you’re able to visit your orthodontist to have the broken permanent retainer fixed.
Will My Teeth Shift If My Permanent Retainer is Broken?
Teeth will tend to shift if they aren’t held in place. If a broken permanent retainer is not repaired after a few weeks – or several months – it is likely that you will see some shifting of your teeth.
Those with a removable retainer that they wear over top of their teeth as a permanent retainer backup will not see much, if any, tooth shifting. Having your removable retainer is a nice reinforcement for your permanent retainer and helps to make sure everything stays in its proper place.
If you have a removable retainer and you notice a broken permanent retainer, make sure to wear your removable retainer at least every night until you’re able to get in and have your broken permanent retainer repaired.
If you don’t have a removable retainer, then try to see your orthodontist earlier and avoid any unwanted dental movement. Ideally, you’ll want to be seen within a week of your permanent retainer breaking.
There is one situation where you will want your broken permanent retainers to get fixed ASAP – if your teeth started out with large gaps (especially in the front teeth). These gaps tend to come back REALLY QUICKLY if they aren’t held closed at all times.
How is a Broken Permanent Retainer Fixed?
The type of permanent retainer and which part of it is broken will determine how your orthodontist can fix it.
If the wire of the permanent retainer is still solid, but the composite has gotten too thin or come debonded from one or two teeth, the fix is a simple procedure. Your orthodontist will place new dental composite over the wire and bond it to your teeth. It’s a 5 minute process in all.
If you have a broken permanent retainer that comes completely off your teeth, your orthodontist can oftentimes take this same retainer and bond it back onto the teeth. If this happens to you, it’s a good idea to save the permanent retainer and bring it in with you to your appointment. This will make the repair go much faster.
Rebonding an existing retainer is quick and usually takes just a couple of minutes.
If your retainer wire breaks or if it comes off and you don’t bring it in with you, then the orthodontist will likely need to make a new retainer from scratch.
This is the most time-consuming fix, and may even require multiple visits if the permanent retainer has to be made by an outside lab. Once the new retainer is made, the orthodontist will rebond it into position.
What is the Cost of Fixing a Broken Permanent Retainer?
The cost of fixing a broken retainer also depends on if the existing retainer wire can be reused or if a new retainer needs to be made from scratch. Every office is a bit different, but in our office the cost to fix a broken permanent retainer are as follows:
- Fixing a broken permanent retainer with an existing wire – $75
- Fixing a broken permanent retainer that needs to be made from scratch – $150
Some offices, our included, may include free broken retainer repairs for a period of time following braces or Invisalign. (Learn more about the cost of braces and Invisalign with Premier Orthodontics which includes free retainer repairs.)
The fees listed above are used in our office for someone who has been finished with braces for a period outside of that window or for someone who didn’t originally have braces or Invisalign with our office but is wanting to repair their broken permanent retainers.
If you don’t have the option of going to the orthodontist that did your braces or Invisalign, you should be able to call almost any orthodontist to get the broken permanent retainer fixed. When you call, you can ask for the costs associated with repairing a broken permanent retainer.