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Should I really wear my retainer?

Do I really need to wear my retainer?

Orthodontics is the dental specialty and practice of preventing and correcting irregularities of the teeth. Think braces and retainers. One of the most common questions we get is: Do I really have to wear my retainer? Check out the answer below.

Dr. Sergio Ferreira is a Smile Generation®-trusted orthodontist at River Lakes Dental Group and Orthodontics. Dr. Ferreira has been practicing orthodontics since 1997. His jovial personality helps him form lasting relationships and puts his patients at ease. You get a sense of his pleasant disposition in his answers to these questions.

Question: I had braces for two (2) years when I was about eleven (11), twelve (12), and thirteen (13) years old. I don’t remember exactly. I wore my removable retainer (top teeth) nightly until about freshman year of college and stopped. I have since put in my old retainer a few times and it is tighter. Would it hurt to start wearing it at night again to make my teeth line up together like they used to? I am now twenty-five (25) years old, so I haven’t worn it for about six (6) years. Thanks! -- Alicia J.

Answer: Hello Alicia. The biggest mistake orthodontic patients can make after treatment is not wearing their retainer. A lot of patients need braces again because they did not wear their retainer properly. It looks like you did follow the instructions, but discontinued use. Regarding your question about whether you should start wearing your retainer again:

  • It all depends on how your teeth look. If they look good, and if you do not present any crowding or spacing, and if your wisdom teeth are erupted or extracted, you do not need to go back to the retainer.
  • Wisdom teeth may be responsible for the shifting of teeth. It is normal for your retainer to feel tight after six (6 ) years because teeth always shift a bit. If you see spacing or crowding, you should consider wearing the retainer at night again.
  • If the retainer feels very tight, it means that your teeth are moving or have moved a lot. If it feels a bit tight, this is normal after six (6) years. Retainers are like money in the bank. More is better. If you start to wear it again, your teeth will feel tight for a few days until you get used to it again.

I always tell my patients: wearing retainers to sleep does not bring any inconvenience to you. They are the pajamas for your teeth. I am much older than you and I still wear mine. I had treatment as an adult and I understand how inconvenient it can be to maintain a consistent schedule.

Question What is Phase One (1) orthodontic treatment and why do most dentists think it’s so important? -- Katee A.

Answer: Hello Katee. This is a very important question. Phase One (1) treatment in orthodontics is an early treatment performed when the child is in mixed dentition (some baby teeth, some adult teeth) from six (6) to nine (9) years of age. It is very important to realize that the patient may still require Phase Two (2) orthodontic treatment. Parents should always ask the doctor what they believe the outcome of Phase One (1) will be. I have seen unfortunate cases where patients had minimal bracketing and nothing was accomplished. I do perform Phase One (1), but only when I believe it will greatly benefit the patient’s future smile. In some cases, I recommend patients wait until they are older before being placed in braces.

Phase One (1) Recommendations

  • Posterior or anterior crossbites: Basically, a crossbite is when one or all of the upper teeth are inside the lower teeth when you bite. It is much more difficult to treat when one is an adult. Sometimes, only surgery is the only option to correct this.
  • Extreme flaring of upper incisors: This is when the upper front teeth jut out forward.
  • Severe crowding: Expansion of the arches or serial extraction of deciduous teeth may be performed at an early age to open spaces for erupting teeth.

Depending on the age, I usually combine both phases of treatment and perform full treatment for about three (3) years; it is more cost-effective that way. A detailed treatment plan should always be reviewed before entering into any orthodontic treatment. The American Association of Orthodontists published an article, Taking Care of Retainers. You can read the article by clicking here.

Thanks for these great questions on braces and retainers. If you’re considering getting braces for yourself or a family member, visit The Smile Generation braces resource.

Retainers, Aligners, and Mouth Guard