Congratulations! You just completed your braces or Invisalign procedure. You feel great, and then your orthodontist gives you your retainers. It turns out, you’re not as finished as you thought.
You can relax, though–retainers aren’t such a big deal compared to the process you just completed! Plus, it won’t be long until you only need to wear them at night. But how long will you need to keep that up?
Why do I need a retainer?
When patients get their braces off or finish Invisalign, the first order of business is to develop a plan for wearing retainers. Your teeth are in their new positions now, but teeth have memory and they won’t stay that way unless you’re proactive.
As your chompers move, they leave behind gaps in the surrounding bone and other tissue. A set of retainers will hold your teeth in place while your tissue catches up. This is why it’s important to wear your retainers full-time for the first 3-6 months.
The bad news is your teeth are always moving. This process is called a mesial drift, meaning your pearly whites are always on the move. Your retainers will help prevent this from happening as you age.
To maintain a straight smile for a lifetime, you’re going to need to wear your retainers nightly for the rest of your life. The good news is, after some time it won’t be necessary to wear them as often.
Though the process becomes slower and slower, if you stop wearing your retainer, your teeth will gradually move back to their original position.
In a way, teeth remember their original position. Even after the bones and ligaments that surround your teeth change, your teeth will want to slip back into their original alignment.
The stages of wearing a removable retainer
In certain cases, your orthodontist will attach a permanent retainer to the backs of your teeth. Patients that receive this will wear the retainers all the time, even while they eat and brush. This style of retainer can only be removed by a dentist, and when this is taken out, patients will receive a removable retainer to wear during sleep.
Most patients are given a set of retainers that are removed for eating and brushing. We’ve seen the best results when our clients wear their retainer on the following schedule:
The First 3-6 Months: During this time, retainers should be worn for 22 hours a day or more. The only time they should be removed is to brush and floss or to eat. Your orthodontist will continue to monitor your progress before approving you to wear them at night only.
The First 2 Years: After your initial time of full-time wear, you will be able to start wearing your retainers during sleep only.
From the Third Year to the Rest of Your Life: Now, you can wear your retainers a little bit less. Skipping an occasional night or two is no big deal. A good rule of thumb is to aim to wear them every other night.