If you’ve just gotten your braces off or finished aligner treatment, you can now enjoy the straight smile you’ve been waiting for! But keep in mind that wearing your retainer is an essential part of the teeth-straightening process. Following your doctor’s instructions and wearing a retainer on a regular basis can keep your teeth from shifting back. Read on to learn how retainers work, how long you have to wear a retainer for, and some tips for upkeep.

How retainers work

Retainers are dental appliances that are custom-made to keep your teeth in place after orthodontic treatment. These devices allow your teeth to settle into their final position that your braces or aligners achieved. As teeth will shift over time, the purpose of retainers is to help them from shifting back to their pre-treatment position.

How long do I need to wear a retainer?

The amount of time you’ll need to wear a retainer may depend on your unique case and doctor’s instructions. But in many cases, you’ll need to wear a retainer for a long period of time, which can range from a few years to the rest of your life. This will allow you to maintain straight teeth and keep them from shifting back. But luckily, you may not have to wear your retainer all day after a few months. Here’s a timeline of how to wear your retainers after treatment:

First few months

In the first few months after treatment, you’ll likely need to wear your retainer 24 hours a day. As your teeth moved during treatment, they created gaps in your jawbone and tissue, meaning your teeth are not being held tightly in place yet. So, it’s important to wear your retainer all day and night, or as much as possible, while new bone forms.

After 12 months

After one year, you should have enough new bone to keep your teeth stable. This means you may only have to wear your retainer at night. Some doctors will only instruct you to wear them three to five nights per week. Make sure to consult with your doctor to see how often and for how long you should keep your retainer on.

How to take care of your retainer

As you continue to use your retainer, it’s essential to take care of it to maintain cleanliness and avoid damage. Here are some tips you can use:

  • Clean your retainer: You should clean your retainer regularly by using soap and water or soaking it in a diluted denture cleaner. You can also use a toothbrush to scrub it periodically.
  • Store it in a container when not in use: Make sure to your retainer in its case or other secure containers when you’re not wearing it. This can help prevent you from losing or damaging it.
  • Remove your retainer when eating or drinking: Take your retainer out before eating or drinking beverages other than water (especially hot beverages). This can help prevent food from getting inside and the retainer warping or melting.
  • Brush your teeth before and after use: This can help your teeth and the retainer stay clean, avoiding damage to both.

The bottom line

Wearing your retainer consistently can help you maintain your new smile. While the amount of time you’ll have to wear one can depend on your unique situation and treatment, you may need to wear your retainer full-time for the first few months. Then, after 12 months, you may only have to wear one at night, possibly even only a few nights per week. Throughout your treatment process, be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions, and ask any questions you may have. This will ensure you know what to do to keep your teeth straight for years to come.