If your orthodontist prescribes a retainer for you after your treatment with braces, it is likely that you will have to wear the retainer for at least 22 hours a day, 7 days a week. While this might seem like a lot, you should always follow your orthodontist’s recommendations.
For many individuals who have just gone through the process of wearing braces for many months or even a few years, one of the last things they probably want to do is to wear a retainer. This leads people to ask the question: what’s the real harm of not wearing retainer after braces? But unfortunately, not wearing retainer can cause problems and usually leads to people asking follow-up questions like how long can you go without wearing your retainer? How long does it take for your teeth to shift back?
And as a simple internet search analysis reveals, oftentimes the same individuals who start off by asking questions about not wearing their retainers ask the questions that your orthodontist never wants to hear, things like will wearing retainer shift teeth back? Can retainers move teeth back? And are there issues since I haven’t worn my retainer in years?
Not wearing retainer after braces
The simple truth is that retainers are an essential part of maintaining your orthodontic treatment. Orthodontic offices are not going to give you equipment you don’t need or recommend treatment regimens that are not going to be in your best interest as a client. However, the desire to have all the apparatuses out of your mouth can be very strong and lead people to not wear their retainers. However, what is the real harm and what happens if you do not use your retainer? Let’s see what some of the experts on the subject have to say.
Orthodontists generally say that most patients continue to wear their retainers at least 1 night per week (Kacer KA et al., 2010). In their study, Kacer and others (2010) noted the encouraging results that 81% of the patients in their sample wore their retainers and largely maintained their orthodontic results.
Not wearing retainer
There are any number of reasons why individuals may not use their retainers. Sometimes they just don’t want to, especially right after having their braces off. Sometimes an individual may have misplaced it, damaged their retainer, or may have decided arbitrarily that it is simply not necessary anymore because everything feels fine.
Research shows that a person’s age, sex, or retainer type does not influence compliance levels (Kacer KA et al., 2010). However, unless you have gone through 11 years of orthodontic and dental school, it’s probably best to listen to the advice of your office. What they say will be most appropriate and they will let you know when you can remove your retainer for good. Despite the problems, for one reason or another many individuals may end up not wearing their retainer so what will begin to happen?
The first problem is that problems will usually occur slowly. Oftentimes too slowly for people to be quite aware of what is happening and they assume that there’s nothing wrong. For the first few days and maybe even for a week or so, you will likely not notice any problems. You will feel happy because you don’t have to wear a retainer, or you will feel it was simply no big deal to start with, and you will assume that your orthodontic office was just trying to give you some busy work.
However, after a couple of weeks if you’re paying close attention, you will begin to notice a change. Your teeth will not be quite as straight as they were, and gaps which were closed may be starting to open slightly more. When you’re flossing your teeth, you may notice that it’s easier to be able to get your floss between the teeth where previously It was much tighter. Again, all this happens slowly enough that the human eye cannot see it happen but over time the drift only continues to get worse.
What happens if I don’t wear my retainer?
Retainers are designed to retain teeth in place. If teeth that have just undergone braces or other orthodontic correction are not retained because their roots are not set, they will begin to shift back to the original positions. So while not wearing your retainer may have first appeared to have no ill effects for you, the longer you continue to not wear your retainer the more obvious it will become.
If you don’t wear your retainer for a few months following your braces, your teeth may begin to revert back to their original positions and in many cases this does happen. This is because the roots have not yet taken their permanent positions. Remember you have just shifted bone in your mouth. Without giving the bones and the teeth time to set in their new positions, you can undo months of work. Oftentimes by the time an individual realizes that their teeth are shifting back, it is too late for any retainer to help.
Your retainer was designed to retain your teeth in the correct positions that they were in. It is not designed to move them back into positions after you have failed to continue with your follow up treatment. This is why a retainer is called a retainer; it’s designed to retain your teeth in place.
Moving teeth was the job of your braces or Invisalign. At this stage, after a couple of months you may begin to panic and reach out to your orthodontic office either to get a spare retainer – not a good move since it is already likely too late for that – or to ask for an appointment to double check what is happening. Your orthodontist will then likely ask the simple follow-up question, have you been wearing your retainer?
Wearing your retainer is important to make sure that your teeth have time to get fixed into their new positions. The longer you wear your retainer, the less likely there will be for any tooth drift. While wearing retainers may not be the most glamorous thing in the world, everybody would agree it is far better than having to wear braces, and significantly better than having to wear braces twice because you didn’t wear your retainer. Needing to get orthodontic work done a second time simply because of a failure in follow up treatment by your own choice would be a bitter pill to swallow.
Haven’t worn my retainer in years
For individuals who have already worn their retainers for a significant amount of time, the chance of drift is less. While you should always wear your retainer for the minimal amount of time that your orthodontist requires, if you have been wearing your retainers for many months or many years the chances of teeth drifting back to their original positions decreases significantly the longer they were kept in place by the retainer.
This of course is no guarantee that your teeth will not start to shift back. However, if you have been following your orthodontic treatment for months and years then it is likely that you will not suffer as quick of a reversion, if you have any at all, compared to an individual who did not wear their retainer from the very beginning of the treatment.
Wearing your retainer is not, as some individuals think, just busy work, it is in fact an important part of the follow-up treatment for you and to protect your smile. Give yourself and your smile the best chance of success by wearing your retainer for as long as your orthodontist deems it necessary to ensure the protection of you and your beautiful smile.
Kacer, K. A., Valiathan, M., Narendran, S., & Hans, M. G. (2010). Retainer wear and compliance in the first 2 years after active orthodontic treatment. American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics: official publication of the American Association of Orthodontists, its constituent societies, and the American Board of Orthodontics, 138(5), 592–598. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajodo.2008.12.027
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