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.

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

  1. Audrey says:

    Hi Dr Jorgensen,

    I’ve just gotten a hawley retainer (braces removed 5 yrs ago) to fix some minor problems. Currently I am wearing my bottom essix retainer every night even though i have a bonded retainer to protect my teeth as i have the habit of grinding (minor). In this case should i wear my hawley at night? Will the grinding damage or break the hawley?

    thank you!

    • These are questions for your local orthodontist who knows your mouth. Grinding should not affect a Hawley, but you need to discuss your retention protocol with your own orthodontist.

  2. Mollie says:

    Hi, I got my retainers on Tuesday and I have been told to wear them 24/7 for the first three months as I had a lot of spacing before. But on Friday I have my prom (which will last around 7 hours) and I wondered if I would be okay not wearing my retainers as I would be drinking and eating most of the night and I don’t want to be taking my retainer in and out.

  3. Ben says:

    Hi Dr. Jorgensen
    The orthodontist from whom I’m considering getting treatment told me that once a patient’s braces are ready to come off, he typically removes them and then takes impressions for retainers (Hawley), which the patient receives and begins wearing 1 week later. He also informed me that in cases where there is higher relapse risk, he takes impressions with the braces/brackets still on and removes them 1 week later when the retainers are ready. He also said I could get Essix retainers (for an extra $100 each) made and begin wearing the same day the braces are removed, which I’d wear for a week until the Hawleys are ready. I’m almost 40 years old and I read that adult teeth tend to be less stable following treatment.
    -In general, does taking impressions with braces/brackets still on the teeth make it more difficult to make precise Hawley retainers compared to taking impressions right after the braces/brackets are removed?
    -What do you typically do for your adult patients?
    Thanks so much.

    • I always take an impression for Hawleys leaving the front 6 brackets on for just this reason. The lab can easily remove the brackets from the plaster model before they make the retainer.

  4. Destiny says:

    Hello I’m just wondering if you were able to give me some advice if possible. I have recently been given a essix retainer after having braces for around 18 months, however after having my braces removed I was suppose to collect 3 days after, however for certain circumstances I couldn’t and had to collect around another 3 days after arranged. I have now had my retainer for around 1 month and already I can see movement especially in my front area where I had ‘fangs’ previously (both teeth at sides of my front were risen on top) my orthodontist reccomended me to wear for 2 weeks permently and then just every night however now with so much movement I have began wearing it all the time to try to prevent any more movement is this helping me or am I wasting my time and is there any reason for so much movement. Thanks D.

  5. Bob says:

    Hi Dr.,
    I’ve had braces for 2.5 years, and I just got them off. Now I have Invisalign on the top, and a wire retainer on the bottom. My orthodontist said that I should wear them 24/7 for the first few months. For the next two weeks I am planning on doing so, but after that I’m not really in the mood to wear a ton of mouth gear to school. Do you think I would be ok with not wearing my retainer at school, but for the rest of the day/night, after this two week period. As in, would it actually have an impact of I didn’t wear it for that roughly 6 hour period 5 days a week

  6. aga says:

    im planning to get braces for protudin upper jaw and gap in front2 teeth , he suggested 2 premolar extraction ,im afraid will the gap after the extraction and the gap in front teeth will remain in case? is the treatment 100% efficient pls reply

    • In the vast majority of patients, removing two upper bicuspids does allow the reduction of protrusion and the gaps can be closed. So yes, the treatment is efficient. As for 100%…. nothing is perfect.

  7. Steven says:

    I got my braces off like yesterday (Tuesday) but I start school on Monday and I hate the way my retainer looks. My dentist told me I have to wear it 24/7 for 6 months!! I was wondering if I don’t wear it for 8 hours out of the day (my school time) but I put it on right after school and keep it on till the next morning, will my teeth move??

  8. vinaya says:

    I am using a Hawley’s retainer. The wire is touching my incisiors but not the canines. Will my canines protrude because of it? Is it normal or should I visit my doc?

    • Actually, the tendency for canines is to collapse, not move forward. The plastic on the inside of your teeth should prevent that from happening. Just to be sure, point out your concerns at your next visit with your orthodontist.

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