For how long do I have to wear my retainers?
The real question is, How long do you want to wear your retainers? Depends how long you want your teeth to stay that way. So it’s really about how long you need to wear your retainers.
Teeth are not static. They are dynamic, always moving, and they will continue to move and shift even though you’ve had braces. They’ll try to move forward, up and outwards, and they will continually crowd. (You can read about this process, called mesial drift, here). If you chew your nails or smoke cigarettes, they will move. As we age, our bite, and hence, our face, collapses. This is inherently part of the aging process.
So, if you are a teenager, and just had your teeth moved into their optimal position via braces, those teeth have a strong tendency to relapse into their original position. The teeth actually have a “memory” of the position they were in before braces. There are ligaments that connect the teeth to the bone and these ligaments stretch as the teeth are moved to their new position.
This is where retainers come into play. They lock the teeth into place and, over time, the memory of these ligaments will fade. However, teeth are continually moving and shifting – not always to our advantage – and it is wise, once you’ve attained a functional and aesthetic bite vis-á-vi braces or Invisalign, it is important to maintain this position as long as you can.
In fact, Invisalign was first introduced as a product designed to correct adult relapse (aka adults who didn’t wear their retainers). Back to the question, how long should I wear my retainers for? Ultimately, the answer is, as long as you want them to be in the right position. I guess that means, into eternity! (Sorry!)
I still wear my Invisalign aligners, ten years after orthodontic correction. I wear them while I sleep, mountain bike, jog, and ski. Not only are my teeth not relapsing, but I am protecting them during these activities.
The retainers, then, have become just more than about keeping my teeth in place. They protect my teeth from wear and tear, too. So they’ve become lifelong friends, and good friends are meant for life!
Mark Burhenne DDS