You will want to follow your orthodontist’s instructions on wearing a retainer, to maintain the results of braces. This may mean wearing a retainer all day, every day for 4 months, or for 12 months.

Retainers are custom devices designed to hold your teeth in place. They’re often prescribed after orthodontic treatment, such as braces, to keep your bite in place after it’s been reshaped or corrected.

Wearing a retainer can be irritating, but it’s a mild inconvenience compared to having to go through having braces all over again.

This article will cover the basics of wearing your retainer, including how long you have to wear it every day, and how to keep it clean.

There are three types of retainers that orthodontists prescribe after you’ve had your braces removed. Both types are prescribed to keep your teeth from moving and to settle them permanently in their new place.

Bonded retainer

The first type is called a bonded retainer. It’s attached to your teeth after your braces are removed to keep them in place for the first few months after treatment.

A bonded retainer is recommended if you need to wear your retainer at all times as a follow-up to orthodontic treatment.

Hawley retainer

The second type of retainer is the removable kind. Hawley retainers, also called wire retainers, can be taken out for cleaning and for eating meals.

Having a removable retainer doesn’t mean it’s any less important for you to wear your retainer and follow your orthodontist’s instructions.

Clear plastic retainer

The third type of retainer is another removable kind. Also called a molded retainer, it’s designed to mold to and fit the new position of your teeth perfectly.

Clear plastic retainers have become popular in recent years because they’re virtually invisible and more likely to be worn. This retainer isn’t the same thing as Invisalign, which is used to straighten teeth, not prevent them from moving out of position.

As for wear and use, be sure to follow your orthodontist’s instructions.

If you have a bonded retainer, you’ll be wearing it all day and all night. But if you have a removable retainer, the rules are a little bit different. You may receive different instructions depending on your specific treatment needs.

The typical guideline for a removable retainer is to wear it full time, except for mealtimes and cleanings, for the first 4 to 6 months after your braces are removed, according to the Canadian Association of Orthodontists.

However, a 2010 survey of orthodontists showed that many recommend that you wear your removable retainer at all times for at least 9 months following the removal of braces.

After several months have passed and you’re cleared by your orthodontist, you may be able to cut back to wearing your retainer every night while you sleep.

According to the 2010 survey mentioned above, over 58 percent of orthodontists prefer to prescribe removable retainers after treatment with braces is complete.

Most of the respondents recommend wearing these retainers every day for 9 months and then dropping down to nightly wear after that.

You never stop needing to wear a retainer, though you may need to replace your retainer after a couple of years.

Forty percent of the respondents said that they prescribe permanent lingual retainers that you keep in your mouth for the rest of your life.

No matter what kind of retainer your orthodontist recommends, it’s likely that you’ll be instructed to continue treatment with it indefinitely.

Throughout your life, your teeth move. If you’ve had braces already, you’re familiar with the fact that the location of your teeth in your mouth is subject to change according to factors such as your age and wearing orthodontic appliances.

Just because your orthodontic treatment is finished doesn’t mean that your teeth are going to stay in place.

If you don’t wear your retainer according to your orthodontist’s instructions, your teeth will tend to shift back into their old placement. This is known as relapsing. If you don’t wear your retainer, you may need orthodontic intervention again within 10 years, or even sooner.

If you try to skip wearing your retainer for a couple of weeks or months, your teeth may shift, and your retainer may not fit your teeth properly anymore.

Keeping your retainer clean protects your teeth. In the case of a removable retainer, it can also extend its life span.

How to keep a bonded retainer clean

A bonded retainer will need to be cleaned as part of your regular dental hygiene routine. Since you can’t remove a fixed retainer, you’ll need to floss your retainer (and the front of your teeth) with a floss threader.

This takes some practice, but you’ll get the hang of it. Also, make sure to angle your toothbrush vertically as well as horizontally to get rid of any plaque buildup or food particles around your fixed retainer.

How to keep a removable retainer clean

Clean your removable retainer with lukewarm water every time you remove it. Rinsing your retainer when it’s still wet with your saliva will keep food from hardening on your retainer.

If your orthodontist recommends it, you can purchase a special soaking product to soak your retainer in between uses.

You may also want to use a soft-bristled toothbrush and toothpaste to scrub every part of your retainer once per day. Do this carefully, though, as many kinds of toothpaste are abrasive and can scratch your retainer. Consider asking your orthodontist for advice on which kind to use.

If food debris gets trapped in your retainer, use a clean cotton swab dipped in water to clean it out. Don’t boil your retainer in water or try to wash it in the dishwasher.

Wearing a retainer according to your orthodontist’s instructions is essential to maintaining the results of your braces.

Your instructions will vary according to your specific needs. Some people need to wear a retainer all day, every day for 4 months, while others will be instructed to wear theirs for 12 months.

Almost all orthodontists instruct that you use some form of retainer each night, indefinitely, after your braces have been removed.

While a lifelong commitment to your retainer may be intimidating, it’s important to preserve the investment of orthodontic treatment.