How long do I have to wear my retainer?

Q:  “Hey, Doc.  How long do I have to wear these retainers?”

A:  “Well, how long do you want your teeth to stay straight?”  How long do you want them to stay where they are today — the day we give you your retainers?

Why did your teeth grow in crooked?  Were they pushed there by your cheek or tongue muscles?  Did they squeeze in at an angle because of the shape of your jawbone?  Those factors are still with you today.  Those muscles are still pushing on your teeth, even though your teeth are in a new position.

What happens in the bone when a tooth moves?  The collar of gum tissue, the bony support and the fuzzy coating on the root that connects the tooth to the bone all get rearranged.  But they seem to have a longing to go back to their old position even when the tooth is in a new place.  There are unseen forces from this periodontal attachment that influence the tooth.  If we rotate a tooth to the right, it wants to rotate back to the left.

You are never done growing.  You might reach your final height, but your jaws continue to remodel through the years.  It is a subtle thing.  But one day you might look in the mirror and say, “Hey!  My lower front teeth are overlapped again!”

So how long should you wear your retainer?  Ideally?   Forever.  Some people think they will wear them for about ten months and then they are finished.  Actually, the retention phase is just as important to the success of your transition as the active phase.

If you take care of your retainers and clean them well, they will only need to be remade about every five years.  They don’t last forever because they are fragile and just made of acrylic and wire.  Heck, you’ll probably replace your cell phone more frequently than your retainers!

Please respect your retainers and what they do.  They are medical devices and provide an important service.  They protect your orthodontic investment and therefore protect your oral health.  While we can’t predict what retainers will cost in the future, plan on them costing at least $300-400.

And as with any foreign object that spends time in your mouth, extra plaque can build up around the necks of your teeth.  Devoting a little extra time to brushing, flossing and oral rinses will be a good idea.  Brush your gums and the roof of your mouth with a soft brush to encourage healthy tissues and also clean the retainer with your brush.  Plaque can stick to the retainer too!

If you have any more questions about retainers, please ask Dr. Foley.  He wants you to fully understand why they are important to your continued satisfaction with your orthodontic care.