Skip to main content

How Long Do I Have to Wear Retainers?

By December 29, 2021August 22nd, 2022Blog, Orthodontics
how long do i have to wear retainer

Is Wearing a Retainer Necessary After Braces or Invisalign Treatment?

You just got your braces removed or you took out your last Invisalign® tray and you have a stunning smile to show for it. Of course, you’ll want to maintain your results for life. The only way to do that is by wearing orthodontic retainers. When a patient hears this, the first thing they usually ask is, how long do I have to wear retainers? Well, our Bellaire and Houston orthodontists have you covered. 

In this post, they’ll talk about:

  • What is a retainer?
  • Why do I need to wear retainers?
  • How long do I have to wear retainers after Invisalign or braces?
  • What if my retainer doesn’t fit anymore?
  • How long do retainers last?
  • What retainer instructions should I follow?

What is a Retainer?

Before we dive into how long you have to wear retainers, let’s have a refresher on what a retainer is. A dental retainer is a custom-fit appliance that holds your teeth in their new positions after they’ve been straightened. When you finish braces or Invisalign, Dr. Tabakman, Dr. Bloome, Dr. Wadler or Dr. Khan will design custom retainers for you and you’ll kick off the final phase of your treatment, known as the retention phase. 

There are two main types of retainers:

Removable Retainers

Removable retainers are, well, removable, hence the name. There are two kinds of removable retainers:

  • Essix Retainer – An Essix retainer, sometimes called an Invisalign retainer by patients, is a clear plastic retainer that looks like an Invisalign aligner. It fits over the entire arch of teeth and is made from smooth, BPA-free, clear plastic, so it’s virtually invisible and comfortable. The majority of our Bellaire and Houston patients opt for clear retainers after braces or Invisalign treatment. 
  • Hawley Retainer – A Hawley retainer, or wire retainer, is made of an acrylic piece that sits against the roof or bottom of the mouth and an attached metal wire that wraps around the teeth. The wire is visible and this type of retainer is more noticeable than a clear plastic retainer. We don’t use Hawley retainers that often anymore at our practice, however, occasionally we’ll recommend them because they can be adjusted to achieve minor tooth movements. 

Fixed Retainers 

A fixed retainer, also called a permanent retainer or bonded retainer, consists of a thin metal wire that’s bonded to the back of the teeth on the tongue side, so it’s not visible when you smile. Permanent retainers can remain in place for years or even decades with proper care. We use fixed retainers when we need to provide an extra layer of stability for teeth that are likely to shift. Most commonly, patients who need a fixed retainer will have it placed on the bottom teeth and they’ll wear a removable retainer on the top teeth. 

Why Do I Need to Wear Retainers?

During the active phase of your orthodontic treatment, which is when you’re wearing your braces or Invisalign, your jawbone breaks down and the periodontal ligaments loosen to allow the teeth to move where we direct them. While this process, called bone remodeling, has to happen in order for your new smile to take shape, it takes time for new bone to form and the ligaments to tighten back up in order to secure your teeth in position. Retainers hold your teeth in their new places while this happens, helping to stabilize your teeth and bite and lock in your results. 

If you don’t wear a retainer after braces or Invisalign treatment, your teeth will shift back towards their old positions. Wearing retainers is the only way to stop this and protect the investment you made in your smile. Even after your tooth positions are stable, the teeth will still move a bit over time and most people experience natural changes to their smile as they age. Retainers keep these changes to a minimum too. 

How Long Do I Have to Wear Retainers After Invisalign or Braces?

Now for the million dollar question: How long do you have to wear a retainer? For the first few months after braces or Invisalign, we have most patients wear their retainers full time while the bone and tissues rebuild to hold the teeth in place. Just like with Invisalign aligners, you’ll only take your retainers out to eat, drink anything aside from plain water, brush and floss your teeth, and wear a mouthguard when playing sports. 

After several months, your teeth will be more stable and the risk of relapse will be lower. At that point, you’ll only wear your retainers at night. While it can vary depending on your individual needs, this stage of wearing retainers every night usually lasts at least as long as you had braces or Invisalign.

Eventually, you’ll transition to wearing your retainers a few nights a week. Do you have to wear a retainer forever? Ideally, yes. While wearing a retainer is most crucial in the time immediately after your orthodontic treatment, wearing retainers a few nights a week for life will prevent teeth shifting, as well as natural age-related changes. In fact, one of the most common reasons our adult braces and Invisalign patients visit us for treatment is because they experienced a relapse after not wearing their retainer for several years. 

What if My Retainer Doesn’t Fit Anymore?

Even after just a few days of forgetting to wear your retainer, it can feel tight. After not wearing a retainer for a month or more, it will be uncomfortable. If you can put in your retainers without having to force them, continue wearing them. Any tenderness or aching will subside with regular use. 

If you find you need to force a tight retainer over your teeth, you shouldn’t wear it. Instead, give our office a call as soon as possible and we’ll make a replacement for you. Don’t put off getting a new retainer, because a retainer is designed to hold your teeth where they are. If you have significant shifting, that could mean needing another round of orthodontic treatment. 

How Long Do Retainers Last?

How long a retainer lasts depends on how well you care for it. A permanent retainer can last for decades as long as you keep it clean. If plaque builds up around it, it can lead to tooth decay and could need to be removed. 

Removable Hawley retainers and clear retainers don’t last as long as bonded retainers, however, they too can be used for years. To prolong your retainers’ life spans, keep them in their retainer case when you’re not wearing them, avoid exposing them to extreme heat (such as leaving them in a hot car or drinking hot coffee with them in) and handle them with care. If you notice any cracks or chips or the retainer isn’t fitting properly, it could be time for a replacement. 

What Retainer Instructions Should I Follow?

To keep your retainers in top-notch shape and ensure they’re able to hold your teeth in place, your Houston or Bellaire, TX orthodontist will give you retainer instructions. While your exact retainer instructions may vary slightly depending on your needs, the following will ensure your retention stage is a success:

  • The only way your retainer will work is if you use it! Follow Dr. Tabakman, Dr. Bloome, Dr. Wadler or Dr. Khan’s schedule for wearing your retainer. 
  • At Houston Orthodontic Specialists, patients come in for occasional visits during the first year of their retention period. Keep up with these appointments, so we can monitor your smile and make sure your retainer is working properly. Bring your retainers with you to these retainer checks.
  • If we place a permanent retainer after Invisalign or braces, be diligent about brushing and flossing your retainer and keep up with your regular dental visits. Similar to caring for braces, using an interproximal brush or floss threader can be helpful for getting underneath the wire. Removing plaque is key to preventing tooth decay. 
  • When you take out your retainers to eat, put them in their retainer case. If you put them on a napkin or tissue, there’s a good chance you’ll accidentally throw them away. 
  • Keep Hawley retainers and clear plastic retainers away from pets. They love to chew on them!
  • Remove your retainers before eating or drinking anything aside from plain water. If you have a clear retainer, this is especially important, because food and liquid can get stuck under the retainer, which can increase your risk of cavities and staining. 
  • Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and mild, unscented dish soap or non-abrasive toothpaste to clean your retainers whenever you brush your teeth. You can also soak your retainers in a retainer cleaning solution once a week or so to give them a deeper clean. 
  • Don’t leave clear retainers in a hot car or leave them in your mouth when you drink a hot beverage like coffee or tea. And, always rinse them in lukewarm, not hot, water. Extreme heat can cause the plastic to warp and affect the fit of your retainer. 
  • In the case of a damaged or lost retainer, call Houston Orthodontic Specialists right away. You’ll want to have it replaced immediately so your teeth don’t shift. 

Join Our Retainer Club and Never Worry About a Lost Retainer

Our Retainer Club is the most affordable way to ensure you always have a retainer on hand. For a reasonable, one-time charge, which can be included in your 0% financing at the start of treatment or purchased any time after, you’ll be able to replace one upper or lower Essix retainer per quarter without having to pay a replacement fee. Give us a call or ask us at your next appointment for more details.


Now that you know how long you have to wear retainers and why they’re important, we hope you have all of the information you need to take care of your new smile. Not a patient yet? Let’s change that! Schedule a complimentary consultation with a Bellaire or Houston orthodontist today!