Dr. Greg Jorgensen
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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.

84 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?

    Thanks!

    • 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.

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