How Long Do Retainers Last?

Getting your braces removed is a momentous occasion that’s absolutely worth celebrating. However, it’s also important to remember that keeping your smile beautiful and straight is a lifelong commitment. Once your braces are removed, you’ll enter the retention phase of your treatment. 

At Lazzara Orthodontics, we field a lot of questions about “How long do I need to wear a retainer?” and “How long do retainers last?” Our patients usually have three retainer check visits in the first year after their braces are removed. Our patients are expected to wear their retainers full-time except when eating and brushing for the first 6 weeks after treatment is completed.  Assuming a good report at the 6 week retainer check visit, most patients go to nights only for the next 11 months or so. Once this “active retention” phase is completed, most patients are instructed to wear their retainers for a few nights per week, indefinitely.

How long a retainer lasts will depend on how well you care for your retainer. It will also depend on whether Dr. Lazzara recommends a removable retainer or a fixed retainer based on your specific situation and needs. In this blog, we’ll explain the differences in durability between these two types of retainers and also provide some tips for getting the most life out of your retainer.

3d render of dental bonded retainer on lower jaw over white background

How Long Do Fixed Retainers Last?

Fixed retainers (sometimes called “bonded or permanent” retainers) are tiny wires glued to the back of your front teeth (usually the lowers) that can last for years or even decades. Dr. Lazzara generally recommends this option if there was significant crowding in the lower teeth before braces. Because they can be more difficult to keep clean, he also typically recommends them only for patients with a demonstrated history of good oral hygiene habits.

With the right care, fixed retainers can offer an experience that is practically “set it and forget it.” Patients don’t have to worry about losing retainers or forgetting to wear them, and it’s a usually quick fix to reattach a fixed retainer if it becomes loose or comes off due to everyday wear-and-tear caused by eating, brushing, etc.

At Lazzara Orthodontics, we generally recommend keeping fixed retainers in place for at least two years. If there are not significant oral hygiene problems or tartar build-up around the retainers after that period, then we’ll typically recommend keeping the fixed retainer in place. 

With proper care, these retainers can last up to 10-20 years before they require replacement. However, they are not indestructible. You will need to take care of them to make sure they do not become damaged. 

If a patient decides to remove their fixed retainers at any point, then they will still need to regularly wear a removable retainer. 

How Long Do Removable Retainers Last?

Removable retainers generally come in two forms – an Invisalign-style retainer made of clear plastic that goes over your teeth, or the traditional “Hawley” retainer made of plastic and wire, which sits behind your teeth on the roof of your mouth.

Both types of removable retainers can typically last up to 2-3 years, depending on the wear and tear they experience. Dropping, squeezing, or bending your retainer can decrease its lifespan, and losing a removable retainer will obviously necessitate its replacement. It’s important to keep a close eye out for chips, cracks, problems with the retainer’s fit, or other structural issues that may prevent the retainer from doing its job. And remember: when it’s not in your mouth, your retainer should be in its case!

Of course, you can reduce these problems by giving proper and consistent care to your removable retainer. So what exactly does “proper care” look like?

Close-up. The doctor puts transparent aligners on the teeth of the artificial jaw

How To Make Your Retainers Last Longer

Just as permanent and removable retainers have different expected lifespans, each type of retainer also requires a specific care routine in order to last as long as possible. For permanent retainers, we recommend that our patients:

  • Avoid the same problematic foods that you avoided while wearing braces, such as hard candies and very sticky food that can potentially damage your permanent retainer.
  • Brush more often. If you are able to brush after every meal, you can help eliminate microbes and bacteria that will be attracted to your permanent retainer.
  • Adjust your flossing routines. It will take more time to work floss around the wire attached to the back of your teeth, so you may want to consider purchasing a floss threader. This specialized tool can help you work floss in between your teeth and under the wire.
  • Get regular teeth cleanings, so that you can catch any problems like excess tartar build-up early.
  • If your fixed retainer becomes loose, breaks, or detaches completely, then contact Dr. Lazzara as soon as possible.

When caring for a removable retainer, one advantage is that they provide less of an impediment to your normal brushing and flossing routines. However, we still recommend following these best practices to get the most life out of your removable retainers:

  • Use your case whenever your retainer is not in your mouth. It can be tempting to wrap your retainer in a napkin while dining out, for instance, but this is a surefire way to lose it.
  • Avoid squeezing your retainer or playing with it excessively, such as sliding it on and off your teeth repetitively, in order to maintain its shape.
  • Keep your retainer out of reach from pets. Otherwise, they might mistake it for their next chew toy.
  • Clean your removable retainer each day. Use an old toothbrush and dish soap when possible. It’s alright to occasionally brush the retainer with toothpaste, but excess exposure may scratch your retainer.

We’re Here To Help With Your Retainer Questions

Ultimately, how long can a retainer last is just one factor in determining the right option for your specific needs. Finding the best fit for you is extremely important, because relapse is a serious concern for almost anyone who has worn braces to correct misalignment issues. We never want to see any of our patients lose the product of all their hard work and investment. If you have any questions about retainers, contact us at (904) 270-8750 or contact us online.

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