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How long should I wear my retainer after braces?

Dr. Wes Chladny of Spring Hill’s Dr. Wes Orthodontics answers questions about braces, retainers and orthodontic care.

Q: “How long should I wear my retainer after braces? Are there different types of retainers?”

Dr. Wes Says:

Yes, there are different types of retainers that are used to hold the alignment of teeth after they have been straightened with orthodontic treatment.  Retainers are either removable or fixed (sometimes called permanent retainers).  Both can do a great job at keeping the teeth in place and there are a number of factors that may influence the choice of which one is appropriate for a patient.  Generally, removable retainers are easy to clean and maintain, but they require good cooperation wearing them to be effective.  Removable retainers usually require replacement from time-to-time due to loss, breakage or wear and tear.  They rarely last forever.  Fixed retainers, on the other hand, can be more difficult to keep clean and often require additional products and/or techniques to maintain good oral hygiene because they are bonded to the teeth and immovable, but this eliminates the need for cooperation wearing the retainers because they are always in place.

One of the most common removable retainers is made of clear plastic that has been formed to fit and cover all surfaces of the teeth, which makes it very effective at holding the teeth in place when worn properly.  Another common removable retainer is a Hawley retainer.  This type of retainer typically has acrylic on the palate, or roof of the mouth, for upper retainers and on the tongue side of the teeth for lower retainers.  These retainers typically incorporate wires to help hold the alignment of the teeth.  Hawley retainers can be very effective when worn properly, but because they have fewer points of contact with the teeth than clear retainers there are more opportunities for the teeth to move slightly.

I use both clear plastic and Hawley removable retainers for my patients depending on the situation, but I prefer clear plastic retainers when I am completely finished with treatment and want to minimize the potential for unwanted movements.

Fixed (permanent) retainers are wires that are shaped to the back surface of multiple teeth and bonded into place with adhesive.  They are usually meant to stay in place indefinitely but can be removed at any time.  As long as they do not become loose or damaged they do a great job of preventing the teeth they are attached to from moving.  Fixed retainers are most commonly used to hold the alignment of the front teeth.  The most common application for fixed retainers in my practice is on the backside of the bottom front six teeth.

The decision about how often and how long you need to wear your retainer(s) after treatment will be made by your orthodontist and may vary on a case-by-case basis.  Retainers are essentially your insurance policy for your orthodontic correction.  If you want to maintain the result of your treatment – you must wear your retainers.  Otherwise, your teeth are likely to return to some degree toward their original, pre-treatment positions.  I recommend that my patients wear their retainers for life.  However, the frequency with which they must wear their retainers to hold the alignment of their teeth may decrease over time.  Generally, I ask my patients to keep their fixed retainers in place as long as they are keeping them clean and there is no other reason to remove them.  My patients wear removable retainers full-time for the first two months after treatment, taking them out to eat, drink and brush.  After two months they transition to wearing them every night while sleeping.  As time passes some patients wish to wear removable retainers less than every night and some are able to do so.  However, I always suggest that my patients transition away from nightly wear gradually and use the retainer as a guide.  If it fits completely and comfortably – they are wearing it often enough.  If not, they need to increase the frequency of wear.  I NEVER suggest that my patients stop wearing their retainers all together.  Good topic.  Hopefully this was helpful.

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