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 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.

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 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 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. Because he has over 25,000 readers each month, it is impossible for him respond to all questions. 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.

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

  1. Sarah says:

    Hi there,

    I had braces from 2004-2008, and during that time I went through twin block expander plates, elastics and cat’s whiskers head gear (only at night-time) in order to correct my Class II overbite. I’ve been wearing Hawley style retainers since 2008, and originally told that I would only need to wear them at night for the first year, after which I would be able to wear them every few days.

    However, I find that whenever I skip a night, the following night when I wear it again is very painful (presumably due to my teeth “moving back”) and takes around a week for the tight feeling to go away. I assume that I will probably have to wear my retainers every night for basically the rest of my life, and was wondering whether it would be worthwhile getting a fixed wire retainer instead (for comfort and convenience).

    The only problem is that on my bottom jaw, one of my lateral incisors is fractured at the root, and despite being fractured and slightly misaligned is still alive. I think that a fixed wire might be slightly risky for the bottom jaw, as it is a miracule I’ve not had to extract it despite it being fractured for 12 years!

    Would appreciate your advice on whether the wire retainer or even invisible retainer would be worthwhile getting?


    • I recommend that my patients wear their retainers the rest of their lives. There will always be movement just like there will always be wrinkles and sags. A bonded retainer might work for you. Ask your orthodontist for his opinion.

  2. Marcus says:


    My name is Marcus, I just got my braces removed after 3 1/2 years. My dentist gave me a wire retainer and told me to wear it 24/7 (can’t remove even when eating) for a year. I believe this is very difficult, as wearing a wire retainer while eating is difficult and having to wear it for a year it is even more difficult. I would like your advice here, I am considering taking off the retainers while eating and only wearing my retainers for 24/7 for the first month and then wearing it for 8 hours a day. What will you recommend?

    • I cannot take responsibility for your teeth moving if you don’t follow your orthodontists prescription, but just between you and me, you can and should remove your retainer to eat. As for the number of hours per day, my patients do just fine by wearing their retainers 8 hours each night.

  3. james says:

    Hello, i had my braces on for just under 2 years and now i am wearing a retainer with the wire. im curious on wether or not the wire retainer is better than the clear ones or if they are the same ? Also they said i should wear it for a year after and then transfer into nights. Why do some orthodontists recommend longer times than others? a responce would be appreciated ! thanks

    • Individual orthodontists are trained in different settings with different professors who were trained differently. The research shows that 8 hours a day maintains the teeth just as well as full-time wear. As for the wire-type retainer compared to the clean one, they each have their own strengths and weaknesses. The one with a wire has a more rigid plastic palate that preserves arch expansion better than the thin plastic ones. They also keep extraction spaces closed more effectively. So if I’ve removed teeth or expanded a palate, I use one of these. The clear plastic ones work well for most cases of crowded, crooked teeth.

  4. Natalie says:

    Hello , I just removed my braces 5 days ago my orthodontist said I should wear my removable retainer at night , but to be honest i can’t sleep with something inside my mouth , will it matter if I just wore them in the morning instead of wearing them at night ? Thank you !

  5. Kayla J says:

    Hello, I had my braces off for about 5 years now. I had stopped wearing my retainers for about a year, and I had just started wearing them again 24/7 for about a week? My question is is it okay for me to just start wearing it at night?

  6. Arjun says:

    I removed my braces yesterday.I am now wearing retainer , my dentist said to wear whole day.But it is difficult me to wear in school.Can I skip school hours without retainers.

    • I cannot authorized you to not follow the recommendations of your own doctor. I think you should discuss your concerns with you doctor so that you will have his approval.

  7. Yasmin says:

    I had my braces removed a couple of months ago and my dentist gave me 2 retainers; a wired one to wear at night and a transparent plastic one for the day. I usually wear the plastic one only day and night. Is that a problem? Will that cause my teeth to move more?

    • You will have to ask your doctor exactly how he wants you to wear your retainers. I cannot treatment plan your retention remotely. Follow your doctor’s recommendations.

  8. R says:

    I haven’t worn my retainers for a few months (I know, bad) so they are a tight fit at the moment… I haven’t taken them off since last night. I was wondering if it would be ‘okay’ to wear them non-stop for the next day or two and eating soft/liquid food in the mean time. I say this because the last time I wore retainers for the ‘first time again’, taking them off was VERY painful. The second night is usually much better, but the first night is always a big adjustment, and I kind of just want to eat (softly)/drink as normal until my teeth feel less pressure from taking it out if that makes sense?

    • If your retainers still fit (albeit tightly) and you are able to wear them, you may get some realignment by wearing them full time. I would recommend that you plan on wearing them full time until your teeth are no longer sore or moving. Than may be up to three weeks or more.

  9. Lauren says:

    Hi, I recently got my braces off after having then on for a little over a year, I have a clear vacuum retainer on my top teeth and a regular retainer on my bottom teeth. I honestly don’t know if I will be a ble to deal with having to take them off, clean them, and such when school starts again. Also I have a summer camp coming up that is almost all outdoors. Would it be okay to wear my retainers only at night instead of the 24/7 I was told?

    • You should follow the directions given to you by your orthodontist. In my office however, I only ask my patients to wear their retainers 8 hours each day (usually at night) and their teeth stay straight.

  10. Sumit Kataria says:

    Hello doctor;
    After almost 2 years of braces I recently got my braces off..my dentist provided me with retainers one month after taking the braces off…and my teeth hadn’t moved noticeably..I had braces because my canines were like a vampire..I wanted to know if I should wear the retainers only in the night (8-10 hours) as soon going to college? My age is 19..

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