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Not wearing retainers after braces: The effects and solutions

Julia Willcox

Written by Julia Willcox

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You finally got your braces removed, and now you have straight teeth and the smile you’ve been hoping for since the beginning of your treatment. There’s not really a whole lot to worry about with your teeth now right? Wrong. After getting treatment with braces or aligners, one of the worst things you can do is ignore the last part of the process: wearing your retainer. Orthodontists will emphasize the importance of wearing a retainer following treatment with braces, and with good reason. If you fail to wear your retainer as instructed, your teeth may begin to revert back to their original misaligned positions.

What are retainers?

Retainers are an orthodontic appliance worn following treatment with braces or aligners, and they are meant to keep your teeth from shifting back into the incorrect positions. Just like the various types of braces for teeth alignment, there are several different types of retainers, with three of the main ones being Essix, Vivera, and Hawley retainers. The Essix and Vivera retainers are both made out of plastic, while the Hawley retainer is made out of both metal and plastic. The Essix, Hawley, and Vivera retainers are all removable retainers, and it is also possible to get a permanent retainer after braces. A permanent retainer is pretty much what the name implies- it is a retainer that is permanently bonded to your teeth. These are typically used as passive retainers, and there is another category of retainers known as “active retainers”. Active retainers can help move teeth back into their correct positions if they have shifted out of alignment following previous successful orthodontic treatment.

not wearing your essix or vivera retainer
not wearing your hawley retainer
not wearing your permanent retainer

Why should you wear retainers after braces?

You just completed your course of treatment with braces, why should you bother with wearing your retainer? Do you need a retainer after braces?

Maintain your results

The primary reason you should make sure that you wear your retainer as instructed is to make sure that you can keep your teeth in alignment. Over the course of your orthodontic treatment your teeth were slowly and carefully shifted into optimal alignment, and your bite may have been corrected as well. But these changes are not permanent. If you do not wear a retainer to keep your teeth in place, they will likely start to shift again, ruining the perfect smile you invested so much time and money into.

Save money

That brings us to the following major reason why you should continue to wear your retainer following treatment with braces- saving your money. After investing what was likely a good deal of money into orthodontic treatment, the last thing you want to do is jeopardize your results by failing to do something as simple as wearing a retainer. Remember thinking, “how much do braces cost”? If you don’t wear your retainer and your teeth start to move back into their original positions, you might end up having to pay for additional forms of treatment to get your teeth back to where you want them to be. If you lose your retainer and subsequently don’t wear it, you will likely need to look into retainer replacements.

How long should you wear retainers?

So how long do you have to wear a retainer after braces? As far as daily wear, your orthodontist will give you specific instructions on how long you should wear your retainer following treatment. You might wonder, “when can I stop wearing my retainer?”. Usually, you will have to wear your retainer for a more extended period of time each day and night immediately following your treatment, and you can then decrease the wear time after a period of several months.

If you want your teeth to stay in their optimal, perfectly straight positions, you can’t really ever completely stop wearing your retainers. Typically, you should wear them for about 8 hours each night.

What would happen if you stopped wearing retainers?

What happens if you don’t wear your retainer? As touched upon above, your teeth would likely start to move back into their original positions after not wearing a retainer after braces. While retainers do not exert active pressure on the teeth to shift them into entirely new positions, they do force the teeth to remain in the same position over time. Without them, there is nothing to stop the teeth from shifting around as they naturally would.

But, for how long can I really go without wearing them? Suppose you don’t wear your aligners for a couple of days or a week. In that case, probably, your teeth will remain in the same position, and you will be able to put your retainer with no complications. In a couple of weeks, the teeth are only able to shift a little, but not enough to not fit in your retainer. You will have to resume wearing the retainers as prescribed.

What would happen if you stopped wearing retainers

However, suppose you don’t wear them for a longer time, for example, a month or a couple of months. In that case, your teeth will be able to move to the previous position or enough for your teeth to not fit in the retainer. As a consequence, you will have to start again with your alignment journey or, if they didn’t move too much, you would have to ask your dentist to make a new retainer for you.

What you MUSTN’T do is try to put back the retainer. If your teeth shifted and you try to put a retainer that doesn’t fit properly, you can cause more damage to your teeth than the sequels caused by not wearing them. This is because if your teeth don’t fit in the retainers, you can force your teeth and cause gum bleeding or even break your teeth.

Fixing misaligned teeth after not wearing retainers

If you hadn’t worn your retainer like you were supposed to, and are now realizing that your teeth aren’t looking quite as straight as they did when you first got your braces removed, then it might be time for you to consider your options for shifting them back.

If the shifting of your teeth is minor, you might be able to get away with using what is known as an active retainer. These types of retainers, while not considered aligners, these types of retainers are meant to exert a small amount of pressure on your teeth to move your teeth back into the correct positions gently. Active aligners often have small springs built into them to achieve this purpose, and Hawley retainers can also sometimes be used as active rather than passive retainers.


Which retainer is the best after braces?

There is no short answer to this question- there are several options for retainers after braces, and the appropriate material and model is something that your orthodontist will be able to tell you upon the conclusion of your orthodontic treatment.

Will retainers straighten teeth back after not wearing them?

Typically, no. Passive retainers will not straighten teeth back after you do not wear them for a period of time. However, active retainers are designed to do so and can be an excellent option for those looking to correct teeth that have made relatively minor shifts after not wearing a retainer after braces. 

Are retainers covered by insurance?

If orthodontic treatment is covered by insurance, wearing a retainer after braces will typically also be covered as a part of this treatment. However, you should always check with your specific insurance company and plan to see what is and what is not covered.

Will retainers always hurt?

While retainers may hurt initially, this will not always be the case. After you get used to wearing them, they should actually be relatively comfortable. But if you forget to wear them, they will likely be unpleasant when you start to wear them again.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. alignersglobe

    Thanks for giving these useful informations!

  2. Robbie

    Hi, I have a question.
    I’ve had braces and now have a clear plastic retainer. however, whenever I take it out to eat, my teeth don’t quite fit together. After eating, my teeth fit together perfectly, and the retainer can feel very very slightly tight. usually by the next day, my teeth once again are very slightly out of comfortable alignment. Is this ok?

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