Dr. Greg Jorgensen
(505) 891-9440
1401 Barbara Loop SE
Rio Rancho, NM 87124

The Jorgensen Orthodontics Blog

How many hours do I need to wear my orthodontic retainer?

Posted by Dr. Jorgensen on March 1st, 2011

TimeMy orthodontist told me to wear my retainer every night but my friend has to wear hers 24/7 for the first 6 months. Why the difference? Is there any research to support one approach over the other?

There is no happier day for an orthodontic patient than the day your braces come off. It is the culmination of months of difficult brushing, flossing, watching what you eat, and wearing those pesky rubber bands. The last thing in the world you want is for the teeth to move. So how much retainer wear is really needed?

As I’ve discussed in previous posts, there is no perfect retainer for all patients and no retainer exists that will keep the teeth exactly like they were when the braces came off. In summary, genetics, wear, tongue position, and regular use cause changes that cannot be completely prevented. The purpose of retainers is to minimize these changes.

In the spirit of keeping tooth movement to a minimum, what is the optimum number of hours for retainer wear? According to an article in the European Journal of Orthodontics by Drs. Thickett and Power, there was NO SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCE between the amount of tooth movement when full-time and part-time (10 hours per day) retainer wear were compared. That was really good news since I have always prescribed that my patients wear their upper retainers nights only after an initial break-in period of 48 hours. Their research confirms what I’ve seen clinically over the years.

Is it possible to wear your retainer too much? In some patients who use the vacuum-formed clear retainers over the front teeth, full-time wear can lead to an anterior open bite (a space between the upper and lower front teeth). The open bite that develops is the same size as the plastic covering the teeth. Typically the teeth will settle back together after the retainer type is changed to one that either covers all of the chewing surfaces or none at all.

Remember that all patients are individuals and nothing works the same for everyone. Be sure and follow the specific instructions that your orthodontist gives YOU! He or she is the best one to evaluate your specific needs.

NOTE: The author, Dr. Greg Jorgensen, is a board-certified orthodontist who is in the private practice of orthodontics in Rio Rancho, New Mexico (a suburb on the Westside of Albuquerque). He was trained at BYU, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Iowa in the United States. Dr. Jorgensen’s 25 years of specialty practice and nearly 10,000 finished cases qualify him an expert in two-phase treatment, extraction and non-extraction therapy, functional orthodontics, clear aligners (Invisalign), and multiple bracket systems (including conventional braces, Damon and other self-ligating brackets, Suresmile, and lingual braces). This blog is for informational purposes only and is designed to help consumers understand currently accepted orthodontic concepts. It is not a venue for debating alternative treatment theories. Dr. Jorgensen is licensed to diagnose and treat patients only in the state of New Mexico. He cannot diagnose cases described in comments nor can he select treatment plans for readers. Please understand that because he has tens of thousands of readers each month, IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR HIM TO RESPOND TO EVERY QUESTION. Please read all of the comments associated with each article as most of the questions he receives each week have been asked and answered previously. The opinions expressed here are protected by copyright laws and can only be used with written permission from the author.

279 comments so far in response to “How many hours do I need to wear my orthodontic retainer?”

  1. Kara LeBlanc says:

    I’m 57 and I just finished 1.5 years of Invisalign (top and bottom) and 3 months of full-time retainers. This caused my bite to be off – the back top and bottom teeth no longer touch at all due to the Invisalign trays. My dentist (who did the treatment) wanted to file down my front teeth but I was wary of that. So I sought treatment from an orthodontist. He had me do extrusion with rubber bands on all of my teeth except the very back ones (and not the front ones, of course) for one month. I was very diligent and after a month, he took them off and bonded metal lingual retainers on my front top and bottom teeth and also gave me new Invisalign retainers to wear at night.
    The extrusion helped a bit but my very back teeth top and bottom do not touch at all (about 1/8 inch between them) and some of my side teeth touch but some don’t. He says to give it time and eventually they’ll move back together. Alternatively, he said that he could put the attachments back onto my teeth and I can wear the rubber bands for another month. I hate that idea because the clenching was giving me headaches and caused me to develop a “jowly” look in my jaw.
    I understand the need for the Invisalign retainers but it seems to me that wearing them will not only prevent the teeth from coming back together to close the bite, but that it will cause the same problem all over again by pushing the teeth back into the jaw (or wherever it is they get pushed into!), completely defeating the extrusion.
    So my questions are:
    1. Should I have the dentist file my front teeth to make the side/back teeth meet?
    2. Should I do another month of the rubber band extrusion?
    3. My concern about “just giving it some more time to adjust on its own” is that my bite is off and I don’t want to damage my front teeth which are taking most of the pressure now.
    4. How can I manage wearing the Invisalign retainers without them re-creating the bite problem that the trays caused to begin with?
    5. Are you a fan of the bonded lingual bars staying in permanently? I don’t mind them so much but flossing them becomes a time-consuming event and, in the long run, since I’m using the Invisalign retainers, too, I’m wondering how redundant they are?
    6. I’ve used the Invisalign Crystals all along to keep the trays clean. They’re great but they’re expensive. What do you think of Retainer-Brite or any other option? I’ve read mixed reviews.
    Thank you VERY much for your helpfulness on this web site. It’s a wonderful kindness that you do here! : )

    • This is a very complex question Kara, one that I can’t diagnose or treatment plan for you over the Internet. It sounds like the orthodontist you’re working with is headed in the right direction. Generally I’m against grinding down the teeth to make them fit. As for using rubber bands to extrude the teeth, refinement aligners can be used to adjust the final positions of the teeth with little or no rubber band wear. I would discuss additional treatment with your orthodontist if you are not satisfied with your results.

  2. Marie says:

    I had Invisalign and now I’m wearing the retainers. My friend also had Invisalign but she only has the “permanent” bonded retainers behind her front teeth AND the Invisalign retainers, too. Is there any reason to have both?

    • Some patients have specific problems at the beginning of treatment that require additional retention. Examples include spaces and severe rotations. Please try not to compare your treatment or retainers to anyone else. Everyone has different needs.

  3. Ellie says:

    I am a 14 yr old girl — I just got my braces off a week ago. I’ve been wearing the retainer 24/7 for the most part — especially at night. But I hate the way it makes me talk, it’s miserable. I’m supposed to wear it for six months all the time then switch to at night. But I really hate it, and I feel like if I wear it at night it wouldn’t be that bad? Plus, I only had my braces for 10 months, the only fixing they had to do was minimal space in between my teeth, so it’s not like there’s much for it to grow back to. What if I only wore it for 12 hours of the day and then took them out? And do I really need to go the full six months?

    • I cannot change your doctor’s prescription Ellie. I can only tell you what I ask my patients to do. My patients wear their retainers at night only (8 hours a day). They monitor things closely and let me know if there is something that doesn’t look or feel correct right away.

  4. Ben says:

    Hi Dr. Jorgensen
    In your opinion, are the Vivera retainers made by Invisalign as effective as the clear Essix and/or acrylic Hawley retainers?

  5. Ben says:

    Hi Dr. Jorgensen
    Regarding retainers that are bonded to the lower 6 front teeth (cuspid-to-cuspid):
    -What prevents the rest of the bottom teeth from shifting since they have nothing bonded to them?

    • The rest of the lower teeth USUALLY are held in position by their occlusion (bite) with the upper teeth that are held straight by their retainer. There are some times when the lower teeth need more restraint, but most patients do not need more than lower anterior guidance

  6. Sierra says:

    Hello. I am a 17 yr old girl who just got their braces off a couple days ago. My orthodontist told me to wear my retainers (which are clear and resemble Invisalign) only in the evening. As someone who stays up pretty late and barely gets any sleep I find myself only wearing my retainer for 5-6 hours. How long should I keep them on each night?

  7. Jamie says:

    This is probably painful for you to hear as a doctor, but I have decided not to follow my orthodontists instructions. It’s not because of your article, I decided already. I didn’t get to choose my retainer, so I was given the clear one that wraps around my teeth. It gives me a pretty terrible lisp so I won’t wear it when talking to people. I wear it to bed and when I’m alone, but it also makes my mouth produce a lot more spit than normal, so I also can’t wear it if I want to be comfortable. I really wish that they would’ve given me the option for a traditional retainer, because I feel that it would be much easier to wear since it’s only one wire on the top of your teeth. Also, I don’t really trust my orthodontist, considering they lied to me about when the treatment would be over at least six times and also made me wear a metal contraption with bars in my mouth so I wouldn’t have to wear rubber bands, but then I did have to wear rubber bands twice. Basically, they’re incompetent so I don’t think their prescription is really custom tailored to me at all.

    • Hi Jamie. I can understand your frustration. I hopefully can help you out. First, the clear retainer your orthodontist gave you is EASIER to wear than the one with a wire. Although the only part you can see on a retainer with a wire is the wire that lays over the teeth, underneath there is a big, thick plastic part that creates even more saliva, more lisping, and is much more difficult to wear. I know it may seem like your doctor is incompetent because of how long he kept your braces on, but I’m sure he was just trying to get the best result he could for you. I doubt he is incompetent since to get into dental school he had to graduate in the top part of his class from college and the top of his dental class to get into his orthodontic residency. Please re-evaluate your position on this as following his instructions will help you keep the smile that you have worked so hard for. Good luck!

  8. Shubhi says:

    My dentist told me that I have to wear my retainers for 6 months.. But do i have to wear them at night after that.. Cause my dentist didn’t tell me about that

  9. Sam says:

    Hi Dr Jorgensen,
    I had braces a few ago and was given a retainer to wear following their removal. I can’t remember exactly what I told when I was given it but I believe it may have been something like, wear them all the time for about two weeks then every night forever. I did wear them for a while but then got fed up with it so haven’t even seen them for about 18 months. I have now noticed slight changes in my teeth so decided to wear it again a couple of nights ago. It stills fits although does cause some aches but will it be beneficial to wear it just at night again or should I wear it 24/7 for a little while? I am worried that I’ll wear it at night and my teeth will move back in the day so I will never actually achieve anything!
    Any advise you could give would be greatly appreciated.

    • Hi Sam. Please don’t try to treat yourself without having your orthodontist check out your old retainer and the amount that your teeth have shifted. There can be consequences to wearing a retainer that doesn’t fit, so have it checked out first. Good luck!

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