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.

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

  1. Ryan says:

    Hi! I got my braces off about a week ago and I’m instructed to only wear my essix retainer at night. There have been multiple occasions where i wake up with my top retainer out and somewhere in my bed. Could this mean there is something wrong with it? Also, whats the difference between the essix and the wire retainers? since I’m only wearing them at night i would much rather have a wire one….. thanks for your help

    • Some patients unconsciously remove their retainers at night. It doesn’t necessarily mean that there is anything wrong with it. If you can’t sleep through the night with the one you have, you should ask about other options that might work better for you (a bonded one or one with a wire)

  2. Jessi says:

    I just replaced my old retainer which has become cracked and loose over the years. The new one hurts a lot. It hurts so much that I don’t think I could possibly sleep in it. I want to wear the new retainer for 4-5 hours before bed untill my teeth adjust and it hurts less. I’m wearing the old retainer while sleeping in the meantime. Is this a bad idea? How many hours a day should I be wearing the new retainer?

  3. Lucas says:

    My braces were recently taken off and I was given permanent bonded upper and lower retainers that cover the front teeth. In addition I have clear upper and lower retainers (the lower retainer covers all my teeth the upper one the front ones). I was told to wear only one clear retainer at night and to alternate between upper and lower (apparently that instruction is related to the bite somehow). Given that I haven’t found a single case of someone being prescribed this schedule online, i thought I’d ask your thoughts on it. I trust my orthodontist fully, but just wanted to hear another orthodontist’s take on this. Thanks!

    • I’ve never heard this protocol either, but it makes some sense. The bonded retainers only keep the front teeth straight. The clear full-coverage retainers keep the rest of the teeth straight AND keep spaces closed. I’m not a fan of having two full-coverage retainers in the mouth at the same time either, so this actually makes sense! Thanks for sharing

  4. Colleen says:

    I was instructed by my orthodontist to wear my top and bottom wire retainer 24/7 but I don’t want to wear it to school. Will my teeth shift if I don’t wear it the 8 hours I’m in school but then put it on when I get home?

  5. Marlyn says:

    I just got my braces in Jan 25,17 I also got a retainer that hooks to the braces I was never told how long I was going to be wearing this retainer I was just told to keep it on at all time besides when I go to brush 3 times a day it’s very uncomfortable and painful do to the fact that theirs a lot of pressure on my teeth when I take the retainer of to brush my teeth feel relieved I also can’t bite or swallow my food is all this normal what should I do and how long would I have to wear this retainer

    • It sounds like you were given a biteplate that holds your teeth apart so that they can be moved more easily by the braces. It also may be necessary to keep you from hitting on the braces when you bite together. If it is that uncomfortable, you need to return to your orthodontist to have it adjusted so that you can wear it as prescribed without so much pain.

  6. Felicia says:

    Hi Dr. Jorgensen

    I just got my braces removed after 5 years of treatment on last December (It supposed to last only 2 years but I was abroad for 3.) And was assigned with clear retainers to wear 24/7 for three months then night time for 4-6 months before I can wear it once every few nights.

    I’ve worn it accordingly for about 2 weeks until I skipped to wearing it at night only until now. My retainer fits comfortably and my teeth is are still straight.

    Is it too late if I decided to follow the instructions to wearing it full time for the next three months and proceed to the assigned routine?

    Thank you in advance!

    • If your teeth seem stable and are not moving, I think you can get by just wearing them every night for 8 hours. That’s what I recommend for my patients and it is sufficient in 99%.

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