Retainer Instructions

When your orthodontic devices or braces finally come off, you’ve reached the final countdown to a great new smile. Now it’s time to transition to an orthodontic retainer. As the name suggests, a retainer helps you retain the new alignment that your braces have given to your teeth. Custom-made to fit your mouth, it keeps the teeth from shifting back to their old positions—critical during the initial adjustment period.

While retainers are most commonly worn after braces, they are also sometimes used on their own to correct minor crowding or spacing issues.

Types of Orthodontic Retainers

There are several types of orthodontic retainers, of which the removable Hawley retainer is the most common and also quite durable. Made of hard plastic (you can pick your color and design), it fits into the mouth behind the teeth and is held in place by a wire in front of the teeth. Other removable retainers include Essix and Invisalign clear plastic retainers, which are less visible but need replacing more frequently and can’t be adjusted. There are also fixed teeth retainers, consisting of a wire bonded to the back of the teeth. Sometimes a combination of retainer types is used.

Retainer Wearing Schedule

In most cases, retainers should be worn night and day at first. After several months, the orthodontist may tell you that you only need to wear yours at night—but be sure to stick to the doctor’s timeline for this. To assure permanent results, it’s a good idea to continue wearing your retainer indefinitely for a few nights each week.

Our standard retainer schedule is as follows:

  • First 6 months: Wear your retainer 24/7 except when eating, drinking, brushing your teeth.
  • Next 6 months: wear retainer at night only.
  • Next 6 months: every other night. At this point patients usually have a good feel for what it takes to maintain their teeth the way they want.
  • Most patients long term are wearing retainers 1 or 2 nights a week.