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

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

Posted by Dr. Jorgensen on March 1st, 2011

How Long Should I Wear My RetainerMy 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 we 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 doing the best we can, what is the optimum number of hours of retainer wear for the least amount of movement? 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 to me since I have always prescribed that my patients wear their upper retainers nights only after an initial break-in period of 48 hours. It is good to have some research that 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 openbite (a space between the upper and lower front teeth). The openbite that develops is the same size as the plastic covering the teeth. Typically the teeth will settle back together after you are given a wrap-around retainer that does not cover the biting edges while it is worn.

Remember that all patients are individuals and nothing works 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.

Dr. Greg Jorgensen is a board certified orthodontist providing braces and Invisalign to children, teenagers, and adults in Rio Rancho, New Mexico and the Albuquerque Westside.

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

  1. Suman says:

    My dentist has put the wire below the line where lower teeth meet upper teeth will this create any problem as i don’t have space above the line where lower teeth meets upper teeth due to gum extension(naturally ) between two middle teeth.

    • As long as there is pressure in front of and behind the teeth, they should stay straight. You need to really work on your brushing to see if you can get the gums healthier and the amount of visible tooth structure to show. If your gums cover that much tooth and are healthy, you may want to ask your doctor about having them reshaped (gingivectomy).

  2. Iris says:

    I got my braces off about 3-4 weeks ago. My dentist told me to wear it day-time but to remove it when I eat then to put it back on. She said that I have to remove it when I sleep. Could I just wear it to sleep? Because I have to go to school and remove my retainers everytime to eat food. Its hassle :(

    • I think you should discuss your retainer schedule with your orthodontist. The only time I ever have patients take their retainers OUT when they sleep is if the retainer has a fake tooth on it and must be worn all day long for aesthetics. I want to give the patient’s gums a break by having them NOT wear it at night. As your doctor why you can’t wear yours all night long and leave it out at school. Makes more sense to me!

  3. Hamid says:

    I know you have answered many comments and i know everyone is different but i want to ask you my case:
    I had my braces for about 7 years and i got them off 3 days ago after a double jaw surgery. Am i an special case or i can rely on this research results?
    I am 24 years old male, from Iran if any difference!
    Thanks in advice

    • I don’t think you would be any different from any other orthodontic patient when it comes to how much you wear your retainer. There is no correlation between the length of your treatment and how many hours a day you have to use your retainers after the braces come off. Follow your orthodontist’s recommendations and let him know if things are not right.

  4. Nikki says:

    I have been wearing my retainer for over a year 24/7 now (with exception of eating, drinking and brushing). This relates more to the midline diastema/frenectomy problem than retainers. I had a frenectomy, but I keep wearing my retainer, as my ortho says the space will close. It keeps getting bigger, so my ortho says I need to wear a spring retainer. It’s so embarassing to wear a retainer (as it is the Hawley kind), I’m in my senior year of high school, and all everyone does is wonder why I’m wearing my retainer, on top of the reason I have a gap after I got my braces off. I’m wearing a spring retainer, but do I have to wear this retainer every day 24/7 for the rest of my life? what do i do? The ortho yells at me if I come in not wearing my retainer, and once again, I am forced to wear it to school, and don’t get to eat at school, because if I leave off my retainer for more than 10 minutes, the gap gets bigger.

    • There is something about your current situation that is not stable. If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting. You need to do one of two things: 1) have the teeth bonded so that the gap closure will be permanent and you can go to night-time retainer wear, or 2) get the space closed and then ask for a permanent bonded retainer behind the teeth. What you are currently doing would be enough to drive anyone crazy!

  5. komal soni says:

    Is it ok if i eat with hawley retainer sometimes when i am out as it is very awkward to remove it in front of everyone

    • It really depends upon what you are eating. If you know that you are going to eat with it in, select softer, less sticky foods that would be less likely to bend the wires or get gummed up on your retainer.

  6. Mikaeel says:

    My orthadontist told me to put my retainers on for 15 – 20 hours a day for the first 6 months , is it ok for me after ive worn it for 16 hours or so to leave off for a few hours?

    • It is best to follow your orthodontist’s prescription to the letter. I would hate to tell you something different and then you have a problem. Discuss this with your orthodontist and see if he is agreeable.

  7. Missk says:

    I took my braces off and didn’t get a retainer till after a week, but the retainer still fit me so I’m guessing my teeth didn’t move. I’m working at the moment and I have to talk laugh smile etc all the time well during the day. I was wondering could I just wear my retainers after 5(in the evening) and throughout the night or do I have to wear them at all times? They are really uncomfortable and I can’t smile or even close my mouth properly. I could do with some advice thank you

    • Your retainers should not be so uncomfortable you cannot wear them. Once my patients are comfortable and their teeth are relatively stable, nighttime wear is usually sufficient. You need to discuss your concerns with your doctor so that you’re on the same page.

  8. Nyasha says:

    Hi, my question is related to the diastemma. I had braces for 4 years during my University years. I got the plastic retainer for my top teeth and permanent retainers at the bottom. On top of the plastic retainer I got a bonded retainer for the diastemma. I was very diligent with my retainer and I’m now at the stage of wearing it once every two weeks as advised by my orthodontist. The gap is opening besides having a bonded retainer there. Should I go back to wearing a retainer everyday or this can’t be fixed?

    • You need to get back in to see your orthodontist. Your bonded retainer may be loose. If it wasn’t it would be almost impossible for your diastema to re-open. As for your plastic retainer, once every two weeks is not enough to keep your teeth straight. Please discuss this with your orthodontist when you see him.

  9. Em says:

    Dr. Jorgensen,
    I’ve made the mistake of not wearing my retainer and now have a gap in my two front teeth. My retainer barely fits and I was wondering what you recommend doing next. Will I have to get braces again or are there other preferable options?

    • If it is a small space, you might be able to wear your old retainer again to get it back in the right place. If there is no way, a new retainer might do it. If it is too big, you may need a short “tune up” treatment with a few brackets and some chain to close the space back up. Closing the space is not hard. Keeping it closed will be the trick. Be sure and discuss your retention options with your orthodontist before you do anything.

  10. Gracie Warren says:

    Hi,
    I got my braces off 10 days ago. My orthodontist recommended that I wear my retainer full time for six months to ensure that my teeth don’t move, but I really don’t want to wear it to school. If I wear it for 48 hours straight, and then just wear it every single night will it be okay? I don’t want my teeth to move. A lot of my friends never wore their retainers and they were fine, I am just really scared about getting braces again. In your opinion, is it okay for me to just wear it 48 hours and then every single night or will their be too much movement?

    • Gracie, because I don’t know what your particular problems were or how you were treated, it is not appropriate for me to comment on your individual case. I can only tell you what I recommend for the majority of my own patients. Your orthodontist will only “warranty” your result if you do what he says. If you do what I say and your teeth move, you’ll get very little sympathy or support from your orthodontist. You could experiment with not wearing your retainer to school and see how it works for you. If you notice ANY CHANGE at all, you’d better do exactly as your orthodontist recommends.

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