How Long Do You Have to Wear a Retainer After Braces?

A teenage girl holding a dental model with braces in one hand and a retainer in the second hand.

Orthodontics can help you achieve a healthy and beautiful smile by aligning your bite and teeth. Braces and clear aligners are the most common orthodontic treatment to shift teeth into the right position, usually requiring wearing these devices for several months or more. After the orthodontic treatment, patients need to wear a retainer to maintain the results, but how long do you have to wear a retainer after braces or aligners? Here is what you need to know about wearing a retainer after orthodontic treatment.

Braces and aligners are adjusted by a dentist or orthodontist to shift your teeth into place. This is a slow and steady progress using pressure by wires and brackets in braces, and changes in molds for aligners. Once the teeth are in the desired position, the work is not done. Without constant support, the teeth can shift back toward their old positions or in other directions. This is why wearing a retainer is so important to maintain the results of orthodontic treatment. Retainers help maintain the months and years of orthodontic treatment.

What Is a Retainer?

Unlike braces or aligners, retainers are not designed to shift teeth but to maintain their position. A retainer is worn for a set amount of time to secure teeth in the desired position. There are many different types of retainers that are used. Some are fixed in place behind the teeth, offering 24-hour support to your new smile. Other retainers are removable and worn when you sleep or for a certain number of hours per day. Some of the common retainer types include:

  • Hawley. The Hawley retainer is made of metal and plastic, with plastic that fits over the gums and palate and metal wires that fit over the teeth. These retainers can be used on the upper and lower teeth, and it is one of the more affordable retainer options.
  • Essix. The Essix retainer is made from clear plastic and fits over teeth like clear aligners. These are desirable for many people, since they are more discreet than the Hawley with wires over the teeth. The Essix retainer needs to be removed when eating or to clean the teeth.
  • Vivera. Invisalign┬« users often graduate to the Vivera retainer, a hard, clear plastic retainer that fits over the teeth like the Essix retainer.
  • Permanent bonded. For lasting support for the front bottom teeth, a permanent bonded retainer can be used. This retainer uses a metal wire that is bonded to the back of the front teeth to hold them in place. The retainer can last up to 10 years before it needs to be replaced.

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Most people begin wearing a retainer immediately after their orthodontic treatment. Depending on the type of orthodontic treatment you had and the retainer, there may be different recommendations for use. You may need to wear a retainer most of the day and night for a set period of time after your braces are removed or after your aligner treatment is complete. The good news is that eventually you will not need to wear removeable retainers all the time, but you will need to continue using a retainer at times to preserve your smile.

How Long Do You Have to Wear Retainers?

Unfortunately, orthodontic treatment does not have an end date. Shifting teeth into the desired position will only be temporary unless you continue to use a retainer to maintain results. After you finish with your initial orthodontic treatment, you may need to wear a retainer constantly for several months. With removeable retainers, you can take them out to eat, brush or floss, but they need to stay in the rest of the day and night. Wearing the retainer constantly allows the teeth to settle into their new position.

Once you complete the initial retainer period after orthodontic treatment, you will be given instructions on how often to wear your retainer for ongoing maintenance. How long do you have to wear a retainer after this period? To maintain results, the rest of your life. Your dentist or orthodontist will give you expectations for wearing your retainer, but usually it is at night. You will also need to care for your retainer by cleaning and sterilizing it, as well as replacing removeable or fixed retainers as needed.
A woman with perfect teeth holding a dental retainer.
If you have orthodontic treatment to correct your smile, it is important to continue the process by using a retainer. To learn more about the different types of retainers and find out how long you have to wear a retainer after braces, talk to your dentist or orthodontist. There are many different retainer options that can be more discreet and comfortable for maintaining your smile after your orthodontic treatment is finished. It is worth the effort to maintain your smile with the proper use of a retainer.