Why Do You Have to Wear a Retainer After Braces?
All teeth are surrounded by tiny ligaments that stretch and flex. As you might guess, they’re often tugged in various directions during orthodontic treatment. But when braces come off, there’s no pressure on those ligaments anymore. Without a retainer, there’s a tendency for those ligaments to pull your teeth back in the direction they came from.
Even if the ligaments themselves don’t tug at your teeth, the way your mouth moves throughout the day can naturally push teeth in specific directions. Most of us see a “midline drift” where teeth start shifting toward the front of our bite as we age.
Retainers help to preserve current tooth positioning and safeguard the investment (time and money) you just made in your smile.
What Are the Risks of Not Wearing One? Or if You Stop Wearing Them Too Early?
Not wearing a retainer will almost always result in relapse. In other words, your teeth will surely drift back toward where they came from. The same thing will happen if you wear your retainer for a while but then stop wearing it altogether. Most people will need to have a retainer for several years following their orthodontic treatment.
Permanent vs. Removable Retainers
A common type of removable retainer is the “Hawley” style. This appliance typically has a thin acrylic base that rests against the roof of your mouth, with a thin wire that encircles the outside of your teeth to keep them tightly in place. They’re economical and ideal for children or teens. There’s even the option to customise the colour of the acrylic base for personal flair (if desired).
Essix retainers are a clear version of removable retainers, mirroring the appearance of Invisalign trays. Except Essix retainers tend to be relatively more rigid. The advantage of Essix retainers is that their design is able to help reset mild tooth movement. They’re also extremely easy to keep clean.
Removable retainers tend to be best for upper teeth, bites that didn’t have major gaps prior to treatment, and adults. However, there are instances where permanent retainers are definitely a must.
A permanent retainer is one that’s bonded directly to the tongue-side surface of specific teeth. Typically, it’s the lower front six teeth and sometimes the upper front four teeth (particularly if there was a large diastema/gap between them). In the majority of cases, permanent retainers are limited to the lower front teeth.
The advantage of a permanent retainer is that you never have to worry about remembering to wear it. Additionally, it protects more “at-risk” teeth that are prone to drifting or relapse from everyday muscle motions in your lips and tongue. Since a high percentage of people see their teeth drift forward as they age, the lower front teeth are particularly at risk for minor crowding the older you get. Placing a permanent retainer in that area of your mouth will protect your orthodontic investment for years or decades to come.
There are two downsides to permanent retainers, however. One is that they’re more difficult to clean around. Floss threaders or a water flosser are a must. The other is that if the retainer ever falls off for any reason, you can’t put it back on your own; you’ll need a dentist or orthodontist to bond it back in place as soon as possible.
How Many Hours Do You Have to Wear a Removable Retainer?
There are various trains of thought regarding the length of time someone should wear a retainer—generally, the longer, the better. But over time, you won’t necessarily need to wear your retainer all day long. Some people go directly into only sleeping in their appliance at night, so we’re talking about 7-9 hours per day on average.
Even if your teeth feel slightly off at the end of the day, wearing a retainer at night-time can help reset their position. As the months and years go by, your daily retention will ensure your overall bite doesn’t relapse. But if you don’t wear the aligner overnight, at least on a semi-regular basis, it’s highly likely that your teeth will begin to drift back to where they came from.
How Long Do You Have to Wear a Retainer After Invisalign?
Wearing a retainer after Invisalign treatment is almost identical to wearing one after traditional orthodontic therapy. The only difference is that typical Invisalign retainers mirror the resemblance of the translucent trays you’ve already been wearing (they’re just a bit more rigid).
Invisalign patients can experience the same extent of tooth relapse and movement as someone who wore traditional braces. As such, you’ll need to be just as dedicated to maintaining your results. Some people are told to wear their retainer the same amount of time as they were instructed to wear their Invisalign trays—others, just at night. In time, you’ll be able to sleep in your retainer nightly or even cut back to a couple of nights per week. Just keep in mind that if you don’t wear your retainer routinely, your teeth can (and probably will) start to drift out of alignment.
How Long Should You Wear Your Retainer at Night?
If you’re instructed to wear your retainer at night, it’s best to plan on wearing it every night. But if it’s been years since you’ve had your braces removed, it may be possible to get away with wearing your retainer just 1-2 nights a week. Remember that you will always be at risk of relapse if you do not wear it at least semi-routinely.
For more information on orthodontic retainers and how long you specifically need to stick to a retention plan, contact Braces Haven to reserve an appointment.