How Long Do I Have to Wear My Retainers?

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So the long-awaited day has finally arrived! Your orthodontic treatment is completed and you are excited about the “big reveal” of your new, beautiful smile.

You have done everything your orthodontist has asked during the process; wearing your rubber bands faithfully, your teeth are aligned nicely, and they fit together perfectly. The orthodontist removes your brackets or attachments (if you had Invisalign®) and finishes polishing your teeth.

You are lost in the excitement of the moment as you stare in the mirror at the results and enjoy the smoothness that you haven’t felt in nearly 2 years.  The orthodontic technician is talking to you….something about retainers….but you aren’t really listening as you take pictures for your Snapchat story and are thinking about what to eat first now that you are uninhibited by orthodontic appliances.

As you leave the orthodontic office with a retainer case in hand, you suddenly realize that you may not be completely finished with your treatment.

“Wait a minute, why do I have to wear retainers and for how long do I have to wear them?” you ask yourself. What did the technician say about these retainers? You see that she provided an information sheet about retainers for you to read over at home. “Hmm…she must have known I wasn’t listening.” 😊

This is a very common scenario at Shenandoah Valley Orthodontics (SVO). Finishing active orthodontic treatment is very exciting for the patient and our team. It is the culmination of the investment of time, detail, and hard work that can have a long-lasting effect on the dental health and self-esteem of every patient. Although the movement of teeth has been completed, the next phase of orthodontic treatment is just as important: retention.

Because the nature of orthodontic tooth movement involves the continual breakdown and re-building of bone around teeth, stability must be achieved and maintained after orthodontic treatment. Initial stability is achieved within the first 6-12 months following the completion of tooth movement with orthodontic retainers. Permanency of the results can only be expected with a lifetime commitment to retainer wear.

Because there are always forces exerted on the teeth from chewing, swallowing, speaking, breathing and, in some patients, tooth grinding, there is always the potential for tooth movement throughout one’s lifetime. This is the same for anyone who has had orthodontic treatment as well as for those who have not.

Changes tend to occur more often in the area of the lower front teeth and in teeth that were moved most significantly during treatment. Indeed, change is ongoing in all parts of our bodies. Hairlines recede, skin sags, eyesight diminishes, and the teeth are no different.

If teeth were removed like dentures and placed on a shelf after orthodontic treatment, they would never move. Of course, we would never do this so we must be aware of the potential for changes and realize that there is maintenance involved (i.e. retention). This is not to be seen as a sign of failure in the treatment, but the nature of aging and the constant use of our teeth.

At SVO, we feel that retention starts in the lower arch. Because the upper teeth (dental arch) fit around the lower teeth (dental arch) the lower teeth, in effect, support the upper teeth. If we minimize or eliminate lower tooth movement, assuming the occlusion (bite) fits together properly, this helps to minimize upper tooth movement.

That is why, at SVO, we routinely use a fixed retainer behind the lower front teeth. This “permanent” retainer can be maintained in place for life with proper care and cleaning. We usually use a removable retainer for the upper teeth that is typically worn nightly for the first year or so after active orthodontic treatment, and then enough (i.e. every other night, 2-3 nights/week, once a week, etc.) to maintain a passive fit.

Most removable retainers will need to be replaced several times over an individual’s lifespan. The expense for these is minimal compared to the benefit received from maintaining a beautiful and healthy smile.

At SVO, we are committed to helping our patients maintain their orthodontic results forever. By adopting a routine of consistent retainer wear, our patients can enjoy the benefits of orthodontic treatment for a lifetime!