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What Happens if You Don’t Wear Your Retainer?

What Happens if You Don't Wear Your Retainer?

El Cajon, CA – You’re probably looking forward to celebrating the day your braces come off. It’s an exciting moment, but it doesn’t mean your orthodontic treatment has ended. Once your orthodontist removes your braces, you advance into what we call the retention phase of orthodontics; here, you’ll have to wear a retainer that helps ensure your beautiful smile stays perfectly aligned.

“You worked hard during the months you were in braces, and the new smile proves it,” says kids orthodontist El Cajon Dr. Santiago Surillo. “But all that work can go to waste if you don’t wear your retainer as prescribed by your orthodontist.”

This is especially important in the first weeks and months following the removal of your braces. The ligaments and tissues that hold your teeth in place are elastic and take time to adapt to new placements.

The retainer ensures your teeth are held in place while the tissues of your mouth settle in their new locations. Without a retainer, your teeth will begin to shift back to where they were before.

This may sound like bad news, but in some cases, orthodontists ask their patients to wear their retainers forever. If this happens to be your case, don’t worry because you can wear them overnight when you won’t even notice them.

“As we age, our teeth do naturally shift some on their own,” says Dr. Santiago Surillo. “But, wearing your retainer can help ensure that any shifting that does occur is minimal, and you can keep the straight smile you have after braces.”

What Is an Orthodontic Retainer?

According to Wikipedia, your orthodontic retainers are special appliances your orthodontist will customize to your needs. These appliances consist of stainless steel wires or clear plastic trays that help maintain the newly obtained tooth alignment. You will have to wear these after your La Mesa orthodontic treatment or any orofacial surgery where the dental health professional considers them necessary.

How Does a Dental Retainer Work?

Orthodontic retainers have the task of containing teeth in the exact same position. Some retainers are temporary to use while your teeth adapt to the new alignment, and some are necessary to keep teeth in place forever.

They prevent teeth relapse and preserve the achievements of straightening treatment.

Your orthodontist will take a mold of your new smile after braces, and you will get a set of retainers custom-made for this new smile of yours. When your teeth try to move or shift, they will find containment in the retainer.

What Happens if You Don’t Wear Your Retainer

As Dr. Surillo warned, our teeth continue to move as we age. You may or may not be surprised about this bit of news, but moving teeth is not as difficult as many think. Just ask anyone who sucked their thumb during their infancy.

Could you move your teeth without braces? The answer is yes. After all, they’re moving all the time on their own.

Even after you finish your treatment with braces to realign your smile, you could shift your teeth’ position by constantly pressing on them with your tongue or fingers and ruin your hard-earned results.

Furthermore, there are some complications associated with your natural aging that we need to prevent with your orthodontic retainers. We want to maintain that beautiful smile of yours, so listen in on everything that Dr. Surillo recommends.

It’s not uncommon to find patients who seek orthodontic treatment after years of wearing traditional braces. Some say they wore retainers for a short period of time, and then they stopped. The result is, ten or fifteen years later, that the patient needs teeth alignment treatment again.

All your orthodontist recommendations are for your benefit and have a reason behind them. We agree you should not follow indications blindly, but you have to be able to trust your doctor. If you have doubts about a treatment, you can always have a second opinion.

Always make sure your orthodontist is a certified expert like Dr. Surillo.

Orthodontic Relapse Is Real

When we move your teeth from their original position, we gradually dissolve the jaw bone tissue at the base of each tooth. You won’t have to worry; this is a safe procedure that your orthodontist has mastered through decades of experience.

After you’re done with your conventional braces or Invisalign clear aligners, the jaw bone will still have to undergo a hardening process. Until that finishes, there’s a chance that your teeth can slide back to their previous alignment, undoing everything you accomplished with your treatment.

This is why wearing a retainer at night, or for however long your orthodontist indicates, is crucial during the first year after they take away your braces.

Your Orthodontic Problems Might Get Even Worse

Another problem is that, as we’ve seen with some patients when they suffer from orthodontic relapse, their orthodontic problems might even worsen. Their perfect smile turns back to a malaligned set of teeth that are now more difficult to keep clean because teeth not only go back to their previous position but can move in new directions.

If you don’t comply with your orthodontist’s recommendations during the retention phase, you won’t be able to secure your teeth’ correct position and will end up with misaligned teeth again.

As you continue to chew, talk, bite, or swallow, your teeth will move, meaning that you won’t maintain proper tooth alignment unless you wear your retainer just as your orthodontist indicates.

You May Have to Repeat the Treatment

Orthodontic treatment allows a normal lifestyle in many aspects. We recognize, however, that patients don’t want to live forever with the restrictions braces suppose. We wouldn’t want you to have to repeat your treatment because you forgot to use your custom-made retainer properly.

Unfortunately, that’s what happens to some patients. If it’s been over a year since you last finished wearing your braces and your teeth are not in the proper position, making you unhappy about wearing braces, it’s possible you may have to repeat your orthodontic treatment due to a lack of proper follow-up with your teeth retainer.

This can happen even after a year of wearing your retainer because each mouth is different, and some teeth move more than others. If you want to align your teeth again, you will have to undergo the same effort, money, and time as before. What a bummer, right?

Types of Retainers Available

There are two basic types of retainers: removable and permanent. Your child’s orthodontist will recommend the best type for your child based on what they need for any conditions they have. Your child may receive only one type, or you may receive a removable retainer for their top teeth and a permanent one for their bottom teeth.

In the removable retainer category, we have a couple of different choices that can be used for your child.

Hawley Retainers

Also called wire retainers, these are removable retainers made of thin metal wire and plastic or acrylic shaped to fit the roof of your child’s mouth or along the inside of their lower teeth. The attached metal wire runs across the outside of your child’s teeth to maintain alignment.

Pros of the Hawley Retainer are:

  • The retainer can be adjusted if your kid needs a better fit or if your child’s teeth need slight realignment later.
  • It’s slightly more durable than a clear plastic retainer.
  • It may be repaired if broken.
  • It can last for years if used and cared for properly.
  • The upper and lower teeth touch naturally with this type of retainer.


  • It will affect your child’s speech more than other retainers.
  • It’s more noticeable than the other types of retainers.
  • The wire may irritate your kid’s lip or cheeks initially.
  • The average cost varies from about $150 to $340.

Clear Plastic Retainers

These are also removable retainers that the orthodontist molds to fit perfectly the new position of your child’s teeth. They’re also called molded retainers.

To make this type of retainer, a teeth mold is necessary. This mold uses a very thin plastic or polyurethane that is then heated and sucked down around the mold.

Some of the Pros of plastic retainers are:

  • It’s virtually invisible, so you’re more likely to wear it. That means relapse is less likely.
  • It’s less bulky and may be more comfortable than a Hawley retainer.
  • It’s less likely to affect your speech than a Hawley retainer.

Cons of a clear retainer:

  • Plastic retainers can’t be adjusted if your child happens to need realignment.
  • If they crack or break, they can’t be repaired.
  • Plastic retainers may affect your child’s speech more than permanent retainers.
  • Plastic retainers can warp if exposed to heat.
  • Clear plastic retainers may become discolored over time.
  • The top and bottom teeth don’t touch naturally with this type of retainer.
  • Plastic retainers can trap liquids against your teeth, which can cause cavities.
  • The average cost varies from about $100 to $285 for one tray (upper or lower).

Permanent Retainers

When we talk about permanent retainers, we refer to an appliance consisting of a solid or braided stainless steel wire. We customize this to fit the shape of your teeth arch. The orthodontist will cement this wire to the back of your kids’ front teeth to prevent unintentional tooth movements.

Usually, the wire will go on the lower teeth arch, and since they remain on the lingual surface of their teeth, they are completely invisible to others. This is what we talk about when we say fixed or bonded retainers, and only your kids’ orthodontist will be able to remove them at the orthodontist’s office.

This retainer type is used if your child’s orthodontist believes that your child’s teeth are likely to relapse or if your child’s orthodontist feels it would be difficult for your child to follow the instructions for using a removable retainer.

Let’s take a look at the Pros and Cons of this type of retainer.


  • Permanent retainers are not visible to others.
  • Permanent retainers won’t affect your child’s speech.
  • Permanent retainers can’t be lost.
  • Permanent retainers can’t be damaged easily.


  • It may be hard to maintain oral hygiene with permanent retainers, especially flossing, because they are not removable. This can cause tartar and plaque to build up, possibly leading to gum disease, so watch your child’s dental hygiene!
  • The metal wire might irritate your child’s tongue.
  • Permanent retainers should be cleaned daily.
  • The average cost varies from $225 to 550, making permanent retainers the most expensive retainer type.

How Long Do Dental Retainers Last?

Dental retainers can usually last for as long as you need them; this can be from two years to ten or more. In most cases, patients only have to wear retainers after braces treatment for about a year.

What happens when your doctor indicates you have to wear your retainers forever? Your doctor will most probably recommend a type of retainer that endures, such as lingual metal retainers. Permanent retainers last indefinitely.

Your orthodontist will also indicate how often you should pay a visit to their dental office, and during your examinations, they will see if your teeth are staying in place and tell you when you need to get a new retainer.

Can I Wear My Retainer After Tooth Extraction

Retainer wear is one of the most important pieces of your orthodontic treatment. If you forget to wear your retainer for an extended period of time, chances are good that it will no longer fit as it should. In this case, you’ll need to schedule an appointment with your orthodontist to have a new retainer made to ensure your bite remains stable and effective.

Shifting of your teeth is normal as you age, but continuing to wear your retainer as directed by your orthodontist can ensure that this shifting is minimal and that your smile remains as straight and beautiful as it did the day your braces were removed.

Cleaning Your Child’s Dental Retainer

Because your child’s retainer sits inside their mouth and against their teeth, they quickly accumulate bacteria, plaque, and tartar. Just like your child brushes their teeth every day, they must clean their retainer on a daily basis.

Cleaning varies depending on the type of retainer your child uses, so let’s take a closer look at the recommended cleaning steps for both kinds of retainers.

To clean your child’s Hawley or clear plastic retainer, follow these steps:

  • Brush out the retainer with lukewarm water after each meal. It’s a good idea to have your child brush their teeth as well.
  • For a deeper clean, gently mix lukewarm water with mild dish soap and use a soft toothbrush or denture brush to scrub away plaque and other debris. You have to do this every day.

Although toothpaste is ideal for cleaning our teeth, it’s better to use a different and specialized product on retainers since toothpaste can alter the texture and appearance of the material.

  • If necessary, use a cotton swab to get into the deepest grooves and ridges on clear plastic retainers.
  • You can also clean your child’s plastic retainer by using a denture cleaner that allows soaking; however, always consult with your child’s orthodontist before applying this cleaning method.

Now, let’s take a look at the proper steps needed to help your kid clean their fixed retainer:

Because these retainers are attached to your child’s teeth, they can accumulate more food debris and bacteria, elevating the risk of calculus and tooth decay. You must floss fixed retainers daily to keep them clean. So you may have to help your child on a daily basis.

  • Grab a long piece of waxed dental floss and use a floss threader to thread the floss between your kid’s two front lower teeth. A bridge aid is a good option too.
  • Hold one end of the floss with your fingers and the other with the threader.
  • Once you get the floss under the retainer wire, simply move it up and down between the teeth all the way to the gum line. The floss should gently go below the gum line if possible.
  • Slide the floss sideways to the next area you want to clean. Pull down until it’s between your child’s teeth.
  • If you can do it this way for whatever reason, try to insert the dental floss from the front of your teeth and below the retainer wire.
  • A Waterpik is another tool that can ease this process a lot.

Maintaining Good Oral Hygiene With Retainers

After years of treatment with dental specialists, you probably have learned a thing or two about how to follow a good dental hygiene routine. Hygiene is key if you are pursuing the goal of keeping your teeth healthy.

By this point, you know you have to brush your teeth at least twice a day and use dental floss daily.

Flossing helps the gums and wipes bacteria from under the gumline and between your teeth. When you don’t use dental floss on a daily basis, it will show the color of your gums (it will turn darker), and you might develop bleeding gums.

Flossing around fixed retainers is what will help you keep dental plaque under control in between your annual cleanings at the dental office.

Of course, you can add more and more steps to the oral hygiene routine. Using mouthwash when you brush your teeth is an extra tool to kill oral bacteria located in different parts of your mouth. And a Waterpik can help you reach difficult spots under the gumline.

In cases where you can’t brush after having a meal or a snack, you can always rinse your mouth with water. Reducing the intake of chewy and sweet foods also helps a lot.

How Long Will I Have To Wear a Retainer For?

The amount of time you’ll need to wear your retainer depends on your individual situation. The risk of relapse is highest in the months immediately following braces removal, so your orthodontist will probably ask you to wear your retainer around the clock, removing it only to eat during these first months.

Wear Your Teeth Retainer Braces Only at Night

Some orthodontists may then recommend wearing your retainer only at night, but other patients may need to wear theirs around the clock for a bit longer. Just as every patient’s length of time in braces is different, each patient’s recommended retainer wear will be different. So that means you can’t adjust your retainer wear because your best friend did.

Can Teeth Move Overnight?

“I recommend overnight retainer wear for life,” says Dr. Surillo. “We can’t predict when teeth might start to shift as you get older, so the only way to ensure your current smile remains is to wear your retainer.”

So, you now know the importance of having your child wear a retainer after they complete their orthodontic treatment, but what exactly is a retainer, and how many different types are available?

Is There an Age Limit for Teeth Braces

Orthodontists all around the world affirm it’s safe to wear braces regardless the age in cases where the teeth and mouth are healthy and mature enough.

The general limitations establish that early orthodontic treatment can wait until age seven. Orthodontic procedures for adults have no age limit as long as the soft and hard tissues of the mouth can successfully endure the movement of teeth.

If you want to straighten your teeth pay a visit to the best orthodontist in your area and learn about the best alternatives for you.