After orthodontic treatment is completed and teeth are straightened and moved into their ideal positions, retainers are then made and worn to keep them that way. We refer to this as the retention phase of orthodontic treatment (compared to the active phase of orthodontic treatment when teeth are being moved).
How long do you need to have a retainer? The answer is simple; as long as you want your teeth to stay straight!
When teeth are straightened with braces or Invisalign, microscopic collagen fibers in your gums and surrounding structures are slightly stretched. While braces or Invisalign aligners are on, the force of these stretched microscopic fibers is insignificant. However, after braces or Invisalign are finished, retainers are critical to ensure that these fibers don’t slowly, but surely, pull your teeth back to the way they were before orthodontic treatment began.
Even if you have never had orthodontic treatment, your teeth, along with every other part of your body, change over the course of your life. Individual teeth are subject to various physical pressures including subtle changes in jaw growth throughout life, your tongue, cheeks, lips, chewing, clenching, grinding, habits, etc, all pushing your teeth in different directions.
Simply put, all things have a natural tendency to go from a state of order to a state of disorder (aka, the law of Entropy for you science geeks). Making a habit of regularly wearing a retainer will ensure that your smile doesn’t end up in a state of disorder someday down the road.
When making the decision to have orthodontic treatment, whether with braces or Invisalign, think of it as a life-long commitment to having straight teeth and a happy, healthy smile. You cannot achieve life-long physical fitness by exercising for 1-2 years, then resting on your laurels and never setting foot in a gym again. In the same way, you cannot achieve life-long straight teeth and a happy, healthy smile by going through orthodontic treatment for 1-2 years and then neglecting your teeth and smile after that.
One final thought: While everyone seems to have an anecdotal story about a friend whose dog ate their retainer and they never wore one again and their teeth stayed magically and perfectly straight for life . . . this is the exception and not the rule. If you value your, or your child’s, straight teeth the way they are and they lose or break a retainer, call your orthodontist ASAP. Have you gone to college or moved away from home and lost touch with your orthodontist? Call a local orthodontist and ask if they can help you out. It is a small investment of your time and money to have a new retainer made compared to having braces or Invisalign put back on a few years later.
Still have questions?