How long do we need retainers?
The amount of time a person needs to wear their retainer after orthodontic care seems to vary from orthodontist to orthodontist. I don’t know why that is, but I guess it goes along with the frequency that different orthodontists treat patients differently as well. Regardless of the differing retainer protocols, I think my colleagues and I can agree on one thing: RETAINERS ARE IMPORTANT!!!
In my opinion, wearing retainers should be long-term thing, but that doesn’t mean that they should be worn all the time for the long haul. Obviously, this blog post only applies to removable retainers (Hawley or clear “Invisalign-like” retainers) that we can physically take in and out of our mouths at will. I’m not a big fan of permanent retainers that are glued on to the backsides of teeth, and I’ll be discussing that during a future blog post.
My recommended timetable is pretty simple:
1st Year = wear them all the time except when eating and brushing your teeth. This is essential because it is in this first year after treatment that the teeth are most susceptible to relapse (moving back to their original position). Full-time retainer wear allows the teeth to stabilize in their new position in the bone.
2nd Year = if you successfully wore the retainers full-time for the first year, you can wear them only at night when you sleep. However, as we reduce the amount of wear time, we need to be conscious of how tight the retainers can be when we put them in every night. People’s teeth stabilize at different rates (some are slower than others) and may require more time to stabilize fully than one year. This required amount of time to stabilize teeth may also depend on how badly the teeth were crooked before orthodontic treatment started – the worse the crowding, the more time it may also take to stabilize the teeth. Thus, when we transition from full-time retainer wear to just at night and if the retainers seem significantly more tight every time we put them in, then the teeth more moving during the day, we need to wear them a little bit more than just at night.
After the 2nd Year = if you have been completely compliant throughout years one and two, then you can just wear the retainers a few times a week at night for the rest of your life – YES, the rest of your life. The principle is simple: only have retainers for teeth that you want to keep straight, and by just reinforcing the straight positions of your teeth a few times a week will assure that they will remain straight forever. I have followed this protocol myself and am happy to say that my teeth are just as straight as when I got my braces off. It definitely works.