orthodontist checking the teeth of a girl with braces

How Long Do You Have to Wear a Retainer?

TeamOrthodontics, Retainer

When you get your braces off, you might think you’re done with your orthodontic treatment, but you’re actually about to embark on the next phase of your journey: maintaining your results for a lifetime! For most patients, this means wearing retainers to keep their smiles looking great. Below, we explain everything you need to know about retainers, including how long you have to wear a retainer after getting your braces off.

Retainers: The Next Step in Your Orthodontic Treatment

Let’s start by talking about the anatomy of your teeth and jaw to understand why retainers are needed. 

Your teeth have ligaments that hold them in place in your jaw. You can think of these ligaments as being like rubber bands—they stretch as your braces shift your teeth into new positions. The ligaments want to snap back into their previous positions once your braces are removed, just like a rubber band does when stretched out and released. Over time, your ligaments will gradually pull your teeth back to their old, undesirable positions if you don't wear retainers, and you'll require additional orthodontic treatment to correct this.

Retainers are custom-made orthodontic appliances that keep your teeth in place while the jawbone and soft tissue around the roots continue to stabilize after braces are removed. Retainers may also be used to make minor modifications to your smile after your braces are removed.

How Long Retainers Are Needed

So, how long do you need to wear a retainer after you get your braces off? It depends on the type of retainer you have—and in some cases, you may have two types of retainers, one for your top arch and another for your bottom arch!

Essix and Hawley Retainers

Essix and Hawley retainers are both removable. An Essix retainer resembles a clear aligner in appearance, but the material used to make it is a bit sturdier because retainers are meant to last for years, whereas aligners are only used for two weeks and then discarded. In contrast, Hawley retainers are made with an acrylic or plastic base and have a wire that wraps around the teeth to keep them in place.

Most of the time, we’ll ask you to wear your removable retainers all day for a period of time, taking them out only to eat, drink anything other than water, and brush your teeth. You'll be able to switch to wearing your retainers at night only after this initial phase of wearing them all day. When your braces are removed, we'll give you an estimate of how long you'll need to wear your retainer, as the length of time required varies from patient to patient.

Fixed Retainers

Retainers that are fixed, or bonded, are attached to the backs of your teeth. While they do require a little extra attention when brushing and flossing, because they're permanently bonded to your teeth there's no need to remember to put them in every night.

Although a fixed retainer is normally worn indefinitely, your orthodontist may determine that it does not need to be replaced if it falls off years after it was placed on your teeth.

Learn More About Retainers

If you have questions about getting your braces off and transitioning to retainers, contact us today to learn more.