How long will I have to wear my retainers?
As long as you like!
We recommend that you wear the removable upper appliance at least
one year and often longer part time. This can vary from one person
to another depending on the type of malocclusion corrected.
Fixed appliances (upper and lower wires) can be kept in the mouth
“indefinitely” if oral hygiene is adequate.
Some practitioners use lower retention wires that are bonded to the
6 anterior teeth. We do not use this kind of appliance because we
find that it is harder to clean and, since the glue covers the
wire, it tends to wear more rapidly, which ends up with more
appliance breakings. If a tooth gets loose from the wire without
the patient knowing, dental plaque can accumulate and cause caries
The kind of lower wire that we prefer to use is very resistant and
relatively easy to maintain. It is a very stiff wire that is only
bonded to the canines with a little plate that covers the glue,
making it less vulnerable to wearing (less susceptible to get
(A) Twisted retention wire with glue in excess. This makes cleaning
difficult and facilitates accumulation of plaque. (B) The arrows
indicate 2 areas where the glue does not hold on the teeth anymore
and, (C) when the wire is removed, we discover dental carie and
gingival inflammation. (D) Another example of carie that developed
under a retention wire.
Am I obliged to wear my retainers?
This question is frequently asked to us so we present information
allowing each patient to make an informed decision concerning the
retention phase following their orthodontic treatment.
Retention is an integral part of an orthodontic treatment. It
allows maintaining the corrections obtained during the treatment as
best and as long as possible. However, it is not guaranteed that
the teeth will remain stable because too many uncontrollable
factors influence stability of teeth.
Wearing retainers is not an “obligation” because we cannot demand
it from patients, but it is a very strong recommendation made by
the great majority of orthodontists for all patients having
undergone significant corrections.
Fixed appliances or wires are easier to wear because they cannot be
removed, but they have certain disadvantages; they must be cleaned
thoroughly to avoid facilitating the accumulation of dental plaque
and can be inconvenient for certain people. Their lifetime can be
Removable appliances, like their name indicates, can be removed
from the mouth, but they can be damaged and lost more easily. They
also have a shorter lifetime depending on the model used.
Choosing to wear retainers or not is finally up to the patient who
needs to decide in which measure he/she is ready to accept a
certain relapse of the corrections. There are usually no problems
in having slight dental displacement if the patient finds it
acceptable esthetically and if function is not affected.
Certain types of malocclusions and dental corrections tend to
relapse more so retention is more critical in these cases.
Some practitioners recommend wearing retainers “for life”. Although
this can ensure some stability, it cannot guarantee it. Removable
retainers having a shorter lifetime, they must be replaced
regularly if someone accepts to wear them “for life”, which we find
unrealistic. However, fixed appliances can stay in the mouth for
decades if the patient wishes so and are easily replaceable if they
break. If they become loose, they can often be rebonded.
Not wearing retainers is neither a certainty leading to teeth
retrieving their initial position. It all depends on the
corrections that were made and the type of malocclusion treated.
Most of the time, orthodontic corrections do not only involve
dental movements but dentoalveolar, skeletal (jaw) changes as well
and influence perioral musculature. It is less likely that a
relapse would allow all these changes to “undo” themselves and the
occlusion to go back to square one, mostly if growth occurred.
Some consider that most patients would not need retention. However,
the problem is that it is hard to identify for sure those who
absolutely need it, so we do not take any chances and prescribe
retainers to all patients.
In conclusion, retention is not “mandatory”, but strongly
recommended and is part of the protocols of any major orthodontic
treatment. The orthodontist only recommends a retention protocol to
patients and it is up to the patients to decide what they wish to
do! It all depends on what they wish in the long term