If you've ever had braces, then you probably remember the day that you got them off. At last, you had straight teeth and you could eat as much sticky candy as your heart desired, without worrying about getting it stuck in your wires or accidentally knocking a bracket loose. But being braces-free doesn't necessarily mean never having to wear equipment in your mouth again. Many people are given retainers at the end of their braces journey to keep their teeth from moving, but how long is that supposed to be a thing? Do you have to wear your retainer forever after braces? Or can you be a little more relaxed once your braces days are far behind you?
Unfortunately, even if you've had your braces off for what seems like forever, experts say that likely doesn't mean that wearing your retainer should be an only every-so-often thing. Your teeth are definitely less likely to move after a couple of years, though, so there's no need to worry if you forget to pack your retainer for, say, a weekend trip away. "The ligaments that cause teeth to move or relapse are like rubber bands, in that they want to snap back the most over the first three years," Dr. Lee Gause, founder and dentist at Smile Design Manhattan in New York City, tells Elite Daily. "After three years, teeth are less prone to relapse."
While your teeth are, overall, less likely to move over time, they can definitely still move, so it's probably best not to make skipping your retainer a regular habit. "Adults should wear their removable retainer or retainers every night, whether three or 30+ years after orthodontic treatment, unless specifically told otherwise by their orthodontist," says Dr. Sarah Pollan, DDS, MS, an orthodontist at Park Hollow Orthodontics. "Most people don't realize that even though adults aren't growing, our teeth and jaws shift and change as we age," she tells Elite Daily in an email. "As a result, our teeth shift, which can lead to crowding of your teeth and changes in your bite."
"It is very simple; patients that wear a retainer nightly keep straight teeth," says Dr. Gause. Plus, if your harrowing experiences with braces have left you extra protective of your pearly whites, wearing your retainer every night could potentially protect your teeth in more than one way. For example, if you're someone who grinds your teeth in your sleep, wearing a retainer can help prevent your teeth from becoming worn down, he tells Elite Daily.
As the years go by, no matter how careful you are to clean your retainer, you could probably benefit from some regular maintenance by a professional, according to Dr. Pollan. Keep in mind, there are two main types of retainers, she says: removable retainers, which can be put in and taken out with ease, and permanent retainers, which include a small wire affixed to the back of your upper front teeth or lower front teeth. "For patients with either type of retainer, you can benefit from having your retainers checked and adjusted by an orthodontist every one to two years after having braces taken off," she explains.
"In terms of replacing retainers, all removable and permanent retainers will need to be replaced with time," says Dr. Pollan. "Think of your retainers like a good pair of shoes. They can last for many years, but might need minor repairs or adjustments as time passes." Eventually, she explains, they become so worn they need to be replaced. So how do you know when it's time to get a new retainer? If you have the removable kind, you might need another one if it doesn't fit well anymore, it feels uncomfortable, or if it's just plain broken. Those with permanent retainers, on the other hand, need either a repair or a new one altogether if the wire becomes loose or the glue comes off, Dr. Pollan tells Elite Daily.
There's no set date for when to replace your retainer, though, so it's really something you have to keep an eye on in the long-term. According to Dr. Pollan, you might have to replace your retainer within the first year of having it fitted, or your original one might be perfectly fine for as long as 20 years. And If you have an Invisalign retainer, the process for getting a new one could actually be as simple as going online, Dr. Gause tells Elite Daily. "Invisalign retainers (called Vivera retainers) are easy to reorder without even taking a new impression, as long as no teeth have moved or relapsed," he explains.
Of course, if you're ever unsure about whether you need a new retainer or if you're wearing it enough in general, it's never a bad idea to bring up the subject at your next dental appointment, just to be safe.