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What if I don’t wear a retainer after my braces come off?

In the past, once your dental braces were removed, that was it. Your treatment was over. We now know, however, that you still need to wear a retainer after treatment.

What is a retainer?

Retainers are designed to hold teeth in place after braces are removed. They are usually made of wire, plastic or a combination of both (click here for more information).

Why do I need a retainer?

If you had orthodontic treatment 15 – 20 years ago, you may find your teeth have become crooked over time. Back then, your orthodontist probably didn’t tell you to wear a retainer.

Orthodontists have tried to figure out why teeth move and whether retainers can be avoided. Studies have looked at whether other things cause teeth to move, such as wisdom teeth and the removal of certain teeth. However, the cause is none of these things. The culprit, it seems, is age. Like our hair and skin, our teeth change over time. They wrinkle in their own way — they get crooked.

How do retainers work?

Braces straighten teeth by applying pressure. Like a tree bending in the breeze, they usually want to return to their original position once the pressure is gone — especially with young patients who are still growing. Retainers increase muscle memory and keep teeth in place.

How long should I wear a retainer?

The length of time you must wear a retainer depends on your situation. We usually recommend that patients wear retainers every day and night for 6 – 12 months. Afterwards, they can usually wear them at night only for 6 – 12 months. Ideally, a retainer should be worn for a lifetime, usually just one – two nights a week, though.

What if I don’t wear a retainer for a short time?

Research shows there is always a risk of your teeth moving after treatment. If you stop wearing your retainer for a short time soon after your braces are removed (when everything is soft and not settled in) you could experience movement. Also, if your treatment was for a serious condition (like severe crowding or severely crooked teeth) your teeth could also be susceptible to movement.

In summary, once your braces are removed, please wear a retainer — prevention is far better than a cure.

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