How long do you have to wear a retainer

How Long Do You Have to Wear a Retainer?

By  Dr. Dustin Coles – Premier Orthodontics

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If you’re finally done with braces or Invisalign treatment, you may be wondering how long you have to wear a retainer. You may also be curious about just how long a single retainer is expected to last.

The short answer is that there are different types of retainers and each one has its own set of unique advantages and disadvantages. 

Watch or video or continue reading to discover what you need to know when it comes to how long you should wear retainers and how long you can expect your specific retainer to last.

First, Why Do Teeth Shift?

Let’s start by answering the more immediate question – why do we need retainers in the first place? Why do teeth shift? Why don’t teeth just stay where the orthodontist puts them? After all, isn’t that what the braces or Invisalign treatment was for?

Believe it or not, the period just after your braces or Invisalign are removed is when your teeth are most at risk of shifting.  This is because the fibers in the gums are still remodeling to the new tooth position.

gum fibers stretched
An example of fibers in the gums that stretch when teeth are moved

Let’s give an example. If your tooth was adjusted to their proper location  (by either braces or Invisalign), then some of the gum fibers were inevitably stretched as the tooth moved . . . think of this movement like a rubber band stretching.

What happens when you let go?

The band springs back to where it started. It’s the same with your tooth!

Once the braces or Invisalign gets removed, the gum fibers will start to spring back and pull the tooth back to its original position. 

Once a tooth is held in position long enough, the fibers will remodel around that tooth and lessen the chance of shifting…

This is why many orthodontists recommend wearing your retainers day and night for the first couple of months. 

Now, for the next question you are probably wondering – Once your gums have adapted to this new position, do you still have to worry about shifting?

Unfortunately, yes.

If you have tongue muscles or chewing muscles that caused your teeth to shift before braces…

…these same muscles will want to move your teeth again.That’s just anatomy and physiology at work.

At the same time, your teeth will continue to shift and move throughout your entire life as a natural function of the aging process — It’s the same reason that as we age our lips, cheeks and overall body changes. 

As the pressure around our teeth increases or decreases in any direction, the teeth are liable to shift or move in response to the changes in pressure.

Orthodontists have been trying to find the best way to keep teeth in their correct position — and the consensus is that the ONLY way to guarantee a perfect smile for life is by wearing retainers for life… (or as least as long as you want to keep your teeth straight).

Different Types of Retainers

Now that we understand just how essential retainers are for maintaining straight teeth and a healthy bite, let’s discuss the different types of retainers to choose from.

Clear Retainers

Also known as an essix retainer, plastic retainer, or Invisalign retainer.  These retainers look like a clear plastic tray and fits over the top of your teeth.

Clear Retainer

Hawley Retainers

Also known as an acrylic retainer or metal retainer. These retainers have a metal wire that goes in front of your teeth and colored plastic that goes behind your teeth.

A Hawley Retainer

Permanent Retainers

Also known as a fixed retainer or bonded retainers.  A permanent retainer is essentially a small piece of wire that is bonded to the back side of your teeth. These retainers can be on the top teeth, the bottom teeth, or both. There are several styles, including permanent retainers bonded to each tooth…

Permanent retainer bonded to each tooth
An Example of a Permanent Retainer Bonded to Each Tooth

…and permanent retainers bonded only to the teeth on the end of the wire.

Permanent retainer bonded to the end teeth
An Example of a Permanent Retainer Bonded to the End Teeth

Depending on the preferences of your orthodontist, and your particular needs, any one, or even a combination, of the retainers above may be recommended.

How Long Do You Have to Wear a Clear Retainer?

If you have clear retainers you should plan on wearing them indefinitely …

…yes, this means your whole life.

But on the bright side, retainers will be a much more cost-effective and health-effective solution long-term than letting your teeth shift back to undesired positions.

Most patients are instructed to wear clear retainers full time for a couple of months, and then followed by night time wear after that.  Your orthodontist should provide specific instructions on how many hours per day you should wear your clear retainers.

How Long Do Clear Retainers Last?

For some, a single pair of retainers might list several years. For others, they may have to replace them every 6 months.  Clear retainers tend to get worn down over time, especially in the areas covering the biting surfaces of the teeth. 

 If you grind or clench your teeth at night, you may find that your clear retainers wear out faster and will require more frequent replacements retainers.

How to wear retainers

Many orthodontists will supply several sets of clear retainers so that a patient has several replacements in case they need a new retainer.

If you are in need of a new clear retainer, you should be able to contact any orthodontist and they can assist you in purchasing a replacement.

How Long Do You Have to Wear a Hawley Retainer?

Hawley retainers, like clear retainers, should be worn indefinitely. Usually, they are worn all day, everyday  for the first two months, followed by nighttime wear thereafter.

How Long Do Hawley Retainers Last?

Hawley retainers can last for years. Some patients report having the same set of hawley retainers for 10-20 years!

Over time, you may notice the wires on a hawley retainer start to fatigue and break off.  Also, the acrylic that sits behind the teeth over time might wear out and eventually break.

Hawley Retainer

In the event that you need a replacement hawley retainer, most orthodontists can assist in purchasing a replacement.

How Long Do You Have to Have a Permanent Retainer?

Permanent retainers should ideally stay in place for life. As long as good oral hygiene is maintained, one can wear permanent retainers indefinitely without any concerns about cavities or gum problems.

In the event that a patient struggles to maintain good oral hygiene, or just prefers not to have the permanent retainer any longer, the permanent retainer can be removed. 

If a permanent retainer is removed, it MUST be replaced with a removable retainer.  If no removable retainer is worn, teeth WILL begin to shift on you again, no matter how many years you’ve had a permanent retainer in.

How Long Do Permanent Retainers Last?

For some, permanent retainers can last years and years without any maintenance or problems. For others, they may find that a permanent retainer requires repair or replacement periodically. 

The main factor that determines how long a permanent retainer will last is the patient’s bite.  If the patient tends to bite in the same area that the retainer is bonded, it will be at higher risk for breakage.

Upper permanent retainer

For some patients, permanent retainers will break frequently due to the bite. In these cases, removal of the permanent retainer and replacement with a removable retainer might be a preferred option.

If you have a broken permanent retainer, any orthodontist should be able to assist with repair or replacement of the retainer.

The main takeaway when answering the question…

“How long do you have to wear a retainer?”

…is that your teeth WILL move at any age.  If you want to keep your teeth in the proper position for life, you must use a retainer.

There are several options when it comes to retainers…

…but the most important thing that all retainers share is…

…they only work if your wear them.

This means that a lifelong habit of wearing retainers is needed, and replacement retainers and repairs will be required throughout your life.

Braces in Phoenix, Chandler, Maricopa, and Casa Grande

Premier Orthodontics has 6 locations  providing braces and Invisalign in Phoenix, Chandler, Gilbert, Maricopa, Casa Grande, and Glendale as well as the surrounding areas. 

Schedule your free consultation for braces or read our comprehensive guide to the cost of braces . (We are very transparent about our process and our pricing, as you’ll see in this guide.)

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