woman with braces smiling and pointing to mouth

How Long Do You Have to Wear a Retainer?

Retainers are orthodontic appliances that are worn in the mouth following orthodontic treatment. The purpose of retainers is to hold your teeth in their current position and prevent shifting. 

Many patients are excited to have their braces removed, only to be disappointed that they will need to wear retainers for a while. The good news is that retainers are removable, making them a bit more convenient. You can take them out to eat and to brush and floss your teeth. 

How long do you have to wear a retainer? Here’s what you can expect. 

Typical Retainer Wear Instructions

Retainer wear is often divided into phases, each with their own length of time. The typical schedule is as follows: 

  • All the time. You will probably need to wear your retainers all the time for somewhere between 4 and 12 months. The actual length of time will depend on how long it takes your teeth to become set in their new position. If you take your retainers out for a few hours and they still feel tight when you put them back in, you need to wear them all the time. If you take them out for a few hours and they fit just fine when you put them back in, you may be ready for the next phase. 
  • Just at night. The second phase of retainer wear is wearing them just at night while you sleep. This phase will go on the longest, usually between 12 and 24 months. If you leave your retainers out during the day and they feel tight when you put them back in, you may want to wear them all the time for a few more weeks. Then try again with just nighttime wear. If they fit well every night when you put them back in, you may be ready for the next phase. 
  • Every other night. Once your teeth have settled into their new position, usually after at least 2 years following treatment, you may be able to wear them every other night. If you leave them out one night and they feel tight the next night, go back to wearing them every night for a few weeks and then try skipping a night again. Most orthodontists recommend that you remain in this phase for the rest of your life, meaning you should never stop wearing your retainers completely. Many patients do stop wearing them and find that their teeth shift out of place, much to their disappointment. 

Permanent Retainers 

One option for retainers after orthodontic treatment is permanent retainers, also called bonded retainers. These attach to the back sides of your teeth and hold them in place permanently. Permanent retainers can stay in place for the rest of your life or can be removed by an orthodontist. 

What Happens If You Don’t Wear Your Retainers Long Enough?

If you stop wearing your retainers before your teeth are settled into position, a few problems can occur:

  • Teeth shift out of alignment. The orthodontic issues you had that were the reason you got braces in the first place will become a problem again. Your teeth will shift back to their old positions gradually. 
  • Your retainers stop fitting. When your teeth shift too far your retainers won’t fit anymore. Once this happens, your teeth cannot be easily shifted back.
  • You will need to repeat treatment. You may have to get your braces put back on and repeat your treatment. It may be less time or it may be the same length of time as the first time. 

Questions About Retainers? Ask Lake Minnetonka Orthodontics 

If you have more questions about retainers following orthodontic treatment, Lake Minnetonka Orthodontics would be happy to answer them. We stress the importance of wearing retainers to our patients and their parents, because we want your results to last. Wear your retainers according to our instructions and you’ll likely keep your teeth in proper alignment for the rest of your life. 

Contact us at any of our 3 convenient locations:

Minnetonka: 952-938-1443

Excelsior: 952-474-0288

Wayzata: 952-473-1993

We look forward to helping you keep your new smile for life.