You finally reached the end of your braces treatment and can’t wait for the reveal of your perfect new smile! You may be covering all of your bases, making sure you have the ‘proper retainer wear and care’ down. You’re learning how to clean and care for your retainer, and even though you just started your retention phase, you may be wondering, “When can I stop wearing a retainer?”
We’re here to give you the information and guidance you need to undergo a successful retention phase and keep your beautiful smile for a lifetime.
What does a retainer do?
First, let’s understand the purpose of a retainer so you have a deeper insight into when you can stop wearing a retainer.
Teeth are naturally anchored into your jaw bone via the roots. When you apply pressure to the teeth through braces or clear aligner treatment, you move the roots of the teeth through the bone, allowing your teeth to be guided into their new positions. Throughout your life, your body is constantly creating and changing out old bone for new bone. While our bone is changing, retainers hold the teeth in their new positions so the teeth do not move with the bone.
Once your braces are removed, your new bone will need to form around the roots of your teeth in their new position. This is why the teeth still need the support of a retainer, to prevent them from migrating back to their previous, pre-treatment position. This is called “orthodontic relapse”—THIS is where your retainer comes into play.
It takes time for the bone to stabilize and re-harden, so you use a retainer to support your teeth and gum tissues as they stabilize in the desired position.
When can I stop wearing a retainer?
Now for the answer you’re been waiting for! For the first two weeks of your retention phase, you’ll be instructed to wear your retainer for at least 22 hours everyday.
(Depending on your specific case and your susceptibility to orthodontic relapse, your orthodontist may advise that you extend this 22-hour wear to 6 months.)
Your teeth won’t be completely stabilized after two weeks, but it will be enough to reduce the amount of time for you to wear a retainer.
After a while, you’ll be able to wear your retainer nights only! Night-time wearing of retainers should go on indefinitely to maintain your new smile. You can reduce this to a few nights a week of night wear, after about a year, unless you notice shifting of your teeth. Some people’s teeth require more retention than others.
What happens if I don’t wear a retainer?
Not wearing your retainer will cause your teeth to shift back to their previous positions.
The shift will be a slow migration, so if you forget to wear your retainer every now and then, you don’t have to worry about immediate relapse. If you stop wearing your retainer for a while, you may find that your teeth have shifted and your retainer doesn’t quite fit when you try to place it back in. To this, we say never force a retainer in your mouth. This could damage your retainer and your smile.
The Bottom Line
So, yes, you will essentially have to keep wearing a retainer forever.
When you have gone to such lengths to create a beautiful smile, we think wearing a retainer is a small price to pay to keep it for the rest of your life!
Still have questions about how long you will need to wear a retainer?
Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with any questions! We love to hear from you. We’re here to guide you through your treatment process, from your very first visit, to your last appointment.