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.

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

  1. Rick says:

    Hi Dr,

    I just got my braces off 2 weeks ago and have an Essix retainer. I am supposed to wear it at night only at this point. I just went on vacation and forgot it. I’m considering cutting the vacay a few days short just to get the retainer. There’s no way to have it shipped or anything. So the question is…will it make much difference to not wear it for 4 nights vs 6 nights? Will wearing it more hours when i get back be helpful?

  2. Lucas says:

    Hi,

    I just had my braces removed and was told that I need to wear the retainers 24/7 for 6 months. Would it make a difference if I don’t wear them for a few hours each day?

  3. Jill says:

    Hi Dr. Jorgensen,
    I had braces for 2.5 years and a Le Fort jaw surgery for my upper and lower jaw; that whole treatment ended 20 years ago (I was 16). I have used a clear retainer on my upper teeth as directed by my orthodontist, who said, when I last saw him, that my teeth were stable and I should wear the retainer one night a week for the rest of my life, which I have been doing. I’ve had new retainers made by my primary care dentist as the old ones cracked. The dentist took new imprints every time. However, now everything I’m reading seems to indicate that once a week is not enough, and I’ve noticed small shifts in my upper teeth over the years. My teeth are still straight but they are turning a little inward and the two front teeth seem to have pushed forward a little (my smile looks a little more narrow). My dentist told me to just wear the retainer a little more often, but that some shifting due to age is to be expected and not necessarily bad. Have the recommendations for retainer use changed over the past 20 years? Or does the fact that I had surgery make the teeth more stable? I’m wondering why I was told to wear it only one night a week (I’m very diligent and would have had no problem with that, so I find it frustrating that I was not instructed to do so), and whether I should go back to my orthodontist’s before I make the decision to wear my current retainer more often. Is it just something normal related to aging?
    Thank you.

    • Everything sags and wrinkles with age. It has nothing to do with the type of treatment you had or the surgery. One night a week is not enough in my mind. I woulds recommend wearing a retainer every night to minimize changes that happen in everyone. Congrats on being so diligent!

  4. Concerned says:

    Dear Dr. Jorgensen,
    Would the risk of the bite opening apply even in cases where the patient only wears an upper essix?

    Or what about if they wear both lower and upper at night only?
    Thank you so much for the responses!
    Concerned

    • Everyone is different, but even a single upper essix can open the bite in some. This is why you have to work with a local orthodontist who can monitor your response to the treatment provided. This is why the current trend in DIY mail order treatment is so dangerous.

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