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Retainers. Why and how they work?

A common question from our Plano, TX orthodontic patients is how long they must wear their retainers after they’ve finished with their orthodontic work. While circumstances dictate how long to wear it, the most all encompassing answer is to ask another question: how long do you want your teeth to stay straight? That’s how long you should wear your retainer.

What Retainers Do

Whether you received traditional braces, used Invisalign, or used an alternative orthodontic treatment, you will still need to wear a retainer in order to retain an orderly mouth full of straight teeth. If you don’t wear your retainer, you significantly increase the odds of your teeth shifting and possibly returning to the state they were in before your orthodontic care or worse.

This is especially important in the first year after you finish your orthodontic treatment. Your teeth aren’t stable in their new positions until your bones have time to grow around them to hold them still. Until the bone is in place, they have a tendency to return to their former position. Other changes in the mouth can exaggerate this movement. Consistent use of your retainer helps to minimize these unwanted movements.


For the first 3-6 months after you finish your treatment, you should try to wear your retainer for about 22 of the 24 hours in a day. After you’ve checked in with Dr. Issa and gotten to the okay to reduce the wear, you can begin wearing it only at night. Continue to wear it every single night until you’ve been wearing your retainer for at least a year. At that point you should be safe to begin wearing retainers on alternating nights.

If at any point your retainer starts to feel tight, that signals that your teeth are trying to move. At this point you should wear your retainer every night until the tightness subsides. As you age, your teeth will naturally begin to shift forward. Continuing to wear your retainers regularly will lessen how this type of shift impacts the look of your smile.

Retainer Styles

Bonded Retainers

Bonded retainers cannot be removed. They are bonded into your mouth. Your orthodontist forms a wire along the backside of your teeth and secures it. This type of retainer requires special maintenance and must be carefully cleaned every day using both a toothbrush and careful flossing. With proper care, bonded retainers can last anywhere from 2-5 years.

Hawley Retainers

Hawley retainers are what most people consider to be traditional retainers. A metal wire wraps around the front of a set of 6 teeth and secures to a piece of molded plastic behind the teeth. These are easier to maintain and adjust. They also last longer than bonded retainers. You should replace your Hawley retainer every 5-8 years.

Essix Retainers

Essix retainers are molded plastic retainers that fit over your teeth and snap on. They are full of nooks and crannies that need to be carefully cleaned every day. Due in part to their high maintenance, Essix retainers have a shorter lifespan, needing to be replaced every 1-3 years.


All retainers should be monitored for wear and tear. Any changes in the shape of your retainer will lessen its effectiveness in keeping your teeth properly aligned. Each time you clean your retainer, be sure to inspect it for any changes or damage. Bring your retainer along to hygenic visits for professional inspections.

A lifelong commitment might seem like a lot, but keeping your teeth straight for you lifetime is worth the little bit of extra time and work it takes to use and maintain your retainer and your smile.