Getting your teeth to move into the desired position with braces is a long and tedious process. It takes months or even years for some people to complete their treatment. By the time the treatment ends, most people are already counting down to the day they finally get to remove their braces.

But getting your braces removed isn’t the end of your orthodontic treatment. You’ll still need to wear retainers for a few more months after removing your braces. A retainer is a custom-made device meant to be worn over the teeth. It is usually made of wires or plastic material and is intended to keep your teeth in their new position after braces are removed.

How Do Retainers Work?

During your orthodontic treatment, braces move your teeth into a new position to achieve the desired alignment. But the teeth won’t be completely firm in this new position right away. It’ll take a while for the gums, bones, and muscles around your teeth to grow around the teeth to support them in this new position. As you go about your everyday activities like chewing food, force is being applied to your teeth that may move them back into the previous position—leading to malocclusion. Wearing retainers after removing your braces keeps the teeth from shifting like this.

Retainers can either be fixed or removable. Fixed retainers are similar to braces in the sense that they’re attached permanently to your teeth. It consists of a metal wire installed behind the teeth to keep them in place. Removable retainers, on the other hand, can be removed when you need to, such as when you want to eat, clean your teeth or clean the retainer. Regardless of which type of retainer you’re getting, it is important that you follow your orthodontist's instructions in using your retainer after your braces come off.

Importance of Wearing Retainers

From the definition above and the explanation of how a retainer works, it’s easy to see why wearing one is important. Wearing braces shifts your teeth until the perfect alignment is achieved. To move to the desired position, the periodontal membrane and ligaments around your teeth must shift alongside. This loosens the teeth over time. Your teeth are likely to remain loose like this until new bone grows around each tooth to secure it in place. This process is known as bone remodeling, and it’ll take months after your orthodontic treatment before it is achieved.

Before it does, you need to keep your teeth in this newly aligned position, which is achieved using a retainer. This device does not cause any new movement or shift in your teeth. It simply holds your teeth in place long enough for remodeling to happen. Without this, the teeth will likely return to their original position, undoing months or years of treatment. As a patient, you have to be compliant with your orthodontist’s instructions for using a retainer. It is normal to miss a day or two occasionally. Your teeth won’t move considerably during these short periods to cause significant damage. But failing to wear the retainer as recommended for long periods at a time can cause a relapse.

When this happens, the retainer will no longer fit over your teeth, and in some cases, you may have to go back to braces to correct the misalignment in your teeth. In addition to preventing the reversal of your treatment, a retainer may also help patients that suffer speech impediments as a result of their teeth alignment. Patients who have difficulty pronouncing certain words because of the position of their tongue relative to their teeth can get a retainer to help them form words correctly.

How Long Do I Have to Wear Retainers?

The truth is it all depends on your specific situation. After your treatment, your orthodontist will examine your teeth to determine the type of retainer you need. Some patients only get a removable retainer, while some get a fixed one. In some cases, your post-treatment may start with a fixed retainer which will be switched to a removable one after your treatment. Some patients also get both simultaneously (one for the upper teeth and the other for the bottom teeth).

Which of these options your orthodontist recommends will determine how long you’ll have to wear retainers. For patients that are given a removable retainer, you’ll be expected to wear the retainer diligently for the first three to six months. The retainer should be worn for at least 22 hours per day. In fact, the only time it should be removed is when you need to eat, brush your teeth, or floss.

After this initial period, your orthodontist will examine your teeth to determine the progress of your treatment. If there is no significant movement after the stipulated period, your orthodontist will approve wearing the retainers only at night in order to keep your teeth stable. This is usually for a few months or years after your initial treatment ends. But some people may have to wear a retainer at night like this indefinitely to maintain a straight smile. After some time, it might not be so necessary since the process of teeth movement will become a lot slower as you grow, but you might not be able to stop wearing a retainer completely.


At Ballard Orthodontics, we consider all stages of your orthodontic treatment very important, including what happens after you have your braces removed. Before and during your treatment, our experts in Sandpoint and Bonners Ferry, ID, will explain all you need to know about your treatment and what to expect after your braces are removed.

Every patient is unique, and your retainer situation will depend on the condition of your teeth before and after your treatment is completed. We’ll take the time to examine your unique situation and work out a treatment plan that works most effectively for you. Contact us to learn more about retainers and any other questions you might have about your orthodontic treatment.