Winning Strategies to Maintain A Perfect Smile

How long do I need to wear my retainers?

Probably the second most frequent question I get asked (besides “when am I going to be done with my treatment?”) is: How long do I need to wear my retainers?

The simple answer is another question: How long do you want to keep your teeth straight? Unfortunately (and fortunately—since it allows us to move teeth at any age), teeth and the supporting tissues respond to forces in the mouth that were and still are in effect before and after orthodontic treatment. As a result, teeth will move back to their original position post orthodontics without the support of retainers. So . . . if you stop wearing your retainers at some point in your late teens or as an adult, there is a good chance that some of your teeth will shift.

If you stop wearing your retainers at some point in your late teens or as an adult, there is a good chance that some of your teeth will shift.

The Research

Perhaps a shallow dive into the research on retention will shed a little more light as to what has been discovered about tooth movement following orthodontic treatment:

  • There is not a direct correlation between impacting wisdom teeth and the crowding of lower incisors.

  • Malocclusions that started with spacing between the teeth have just as much chance to relapse (i.e. spaces returning) as teeth that were crowded.

  • Expansion or flaring of front teeth during orthodontics showed a greater chance of relapsing after the completion of treatment

  • Unwanted tooth movement also occurs as a result of the normal aging process. These changes include the deterioration of the alignment of the anterior teeth

  • It is difficult to predict which orthodontic cases will exhibit relapse therefore every case should be treated on the basis that relapse will occur and that life-long retention is required

  • Even with the best of retention protocols, most orthodontic cases will exhibit some movement (5 to 10%) of the teeth

Minimize the shifting of teeth, maintain your beautiful smile.

Be consistent wearing your retainers on a regular basis. Start off by developing good habits just like brushing and flossing your teeth every day. Intermittent wear of retainers is not only uncomfortable (sore teeth) but also unhealthy for the supporting gums and bone. The idea is to allow your teeth to settle into their new position and for the surrounding tissues to adapt accordingly. The good news is that wearing your retainers about 8 to 10 hours per day is sufficient to keep your teeth straight (Yeah! No full time wear!!). Be sure to keep your retainers clean by brushing them daily and storing them in a case away from heat and the family dog. You don’t want your retainers to become an expensive doggie chew toy!

Retainer Choices

There are basically three different types of retainers available:

  • Thermoplastic

  • Hawley

  • Fixed


Thermoplastic retainers are similar to Invisalign aligners. They are clear retainers that fit over the teeth, provide excellent retention, and are very comfortable to wear. If you clench or grind your teeth at night, they will also serve as a night-guard however heavy bruxers will quickly grind through them. Invisalign offers its own line of thermoplastic retainers called Vivera. They can be ordered at the end of treatment and come in a set of 4. Thermoplastic retainers work best following Invisalign since they are similar to what the patient experienced with their Invisalign treatment.

Hawley Retainers

Hawley retainers are the traditional retainers that are typically delivered following the completion of orthodontic treatment with braces. They have been around for over 100 years and have stood the test of time. Hawley retainers are very durable, can be made in many different acrylic colors/patterns, and can be adjusted if teeth have moved slightly. They do make speech difficult since the upper retainer covers a good portion of the palate and feel bulky in the mouth due to their size.

Fixed Retainers

A fixed retainer is basically a wire that is bonded (glued) to the backside of your incisors. It is most commonly used in the lower arch to prevent relapse of the lower incisors. The upside of a fixed retainer is that you have retention 24/7 but it can be challenging to keep clean and requires special flossing/brushing techniques. The other downside is that a bond or part of the wire will sometimes break and a tooth may shift before the fixed retainer can be repaired.

The bottom line . . . Keep wearing your retainers! If you stopped wearing your retainers and your teeth have shifted, don’t worry — Invisalign is a great way to address post orthodontic relapse.

If you have questions about the benefits of Invisalign treatment, please call Visage Orthodontics to schedule a visit with Dr. Tanner, your Santa Fe Invisalign specialist. Dr. Tanner will review everything in detail and develop a customized treatment plan to fit your lifestyle and budget.

A confident and beautiful smile is right around the corner!