How Long Do You Wear a Retainer After Braces?

Happy young woman with perfect smile holding retainers during orthodontic appointment.

It is estimated that over four million Americans each year wear braces or orthodontic devices to straighten their teeth. Once the treatment with braces is finished, patients need to continue with maintaining their smile with a retainer. How long do you wear a retainer after braces? Here is what you need to know.

Of the over four million people wearing braces, about 25% are adults and the rest teens or adolescents under 18. Treatment can take between one and three years for most patients, whether they use traditional braces or clear aligners. Once the treatment is over, they will need to wear a retainer after braces.

What Is a Retainer?

Once orthodontic treatment is finished and the teeth are in the correct position, a retainer is prescribed to keep teeth in place. There are wire and acrylic (Hawley) and clear plastic (VFR) retainers, as well as permanent retainers. These devices are designed to keep teeth in place, not shift them like braces.

Hawley retainers have been used for decades and are the most common. They are designed to fit over your teeth with wires and an acrylic portion that curves along the roof and floor of the mouth. These are removable and adjustable but are more noticeable.

Vacuum Form Retainers, or VFR, are made from clear plastic, similar to Invisalign® or other clear aligners. However, these do not shift teeth, only hold them in place. These are more discreet and removable, but they are more expensive to replace.

Permanent retainers are wires that are bonded to the inside of the lower and upper teeth. These give your smile support 24/7 and they are invisible to others. This is a good choice for those prone to not wearing their removable retainers after their braces are removed.

How long do you have to wear a retainer after braces? In the beginning, you may need to wear your retainer 20 or more hours per day to keep your teeth from shifting back to their previous position. For many patients, this first period of retainer use lasts about three months.

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When Can I Stop Wearing My Retainers?

It is understandable to look for an end date after undergoing orthodontic treatment. Teens especially want to know, “How long do you have to wear a retainer after braces?” While it may seem daunting, the quick answer is for the rest of your life, but not all day, every day.

Wearing a customized retainer ensures your teeth stay straight and your bite is aligned. The first few months after braces are the most crucial, which is why you need to wear a retainer 20+ hours a day. However, for the rest of your life, it is possible for your teeth to shift out of place.

After the initial period, retainers should be worn at night to give the teeth support. You can enjoy your straight smile during the day without wearing a retainer, but it should be worn while you sleep to protect your smile.

What Happens If I Don’t Wear a Retainer?

Since the majority of people with braces are adolescents or teens, a lifetime of wearing retainers is daunting. Many may wear their retainers during their teen years but stop wearing them consistently when they become adults. This is when the trouble begins.

During the college years or as young adults out on their own, many people stop using their retainers. Slowly, their teeth begin to shift and eventually, their retainer will not fit or be able to correct the malocclusions. After a few years, their teeth may be noticeably crooked or overlapped.

Once teeth shift, a retainer will not fix the problem. To obtain a straight smile again, patients will need to have additional orthodontic treatment. Many adults who seek braces or clear aligners had orthodontic treatment as teens but did not continue wearing their retainers as required.

Can I Use a Generic Retainer?

You can find retainers to buy online, but beware of using these generic devices. You want a retainer that is customized for your teeth and designed to support your specific alignment. While the online retainers are less expensive, they will not perform the same or last as long as a retainer from a dentist or orthodontist.
A teen Afro-American boy with perfect smile holding a dental model with braces in one hand and a retainer aligner in the second hand.
In the long run, wearing your customized retainer from your dentist can save you money. Maintaining your straight smile will keep your smile looking attractive and help improve oral health. Plus, you can avoid future orthodontic treatment.

Now you know how important it is to continue wearing a retainer after braces. You do not want to undo the orthodontic treatment by foregoing your retainer. Talk to your dentist or orthodontists about the right retainer for your lifestyle and continue wearing it throughout your lifetime to retain your smile.