To Have and to Hold—How Retainers Will Keep You Smiling for a Lifetime


Getting braces is an exciting milestone in a person’s life, and it involves a serious commitment, not unlike entering a marriage. You’re agreeing to partner with your orthodontic practice as you work together in a positive relationship to achieve a common goal—in this case, a beautiful, healthy, and functional smile. And the intent is “to have and to hold” that beautiful smile for the rest of your life. So before you say “I do” to braces or clear aligners, let’s take a moment to talk about what you’ll need to maintain the results of your treatment for a lifetime—retainers.

After the active phase of moving your teeth with braces or aligners, you will enter the retention phase of your orthodontic treatment. Once your orthodontic appliances are removed, your orthodontist will fit you with retainers customized to your exact bite. Just as there are different types of braces, there are various styles of retainers to choose from (see “Retainer Types”), and your orthodontist will work with you to select the best ones for your particular orthodontic needs. You will be asked to wear your retainers faithfully for a prescribed period of time to stabilize and hold your result. At Orthodontic Arts, we typically have our patients wear their retainers every night while they sleep for the first two years after treatment. After that, we recommend trying the retainers in a couple of nights a month. If they slide in and out easily, you don’t have to do a thing, as the result is stable. However, if the retainers feel tight, it means that your teeth are trying to move, so you’ll want to sleep in your retainers for several nights until they feel comfortable again and you get back to your finished result. We tell our patients to never throw your retainers away! They’re your insurance policy. You’ve invested valuable time, effort, and financial resources in your orthodontic treatment, and you would never want to lose everything you’ve worked so hard to achieve.

Years ago, it was thought that we stopped growing and changing after a certain point, but now we know that we are not static creatures; we’re changing throughout our lifetimes, so retention is essential long-term. Now, some of us will be more prone to change than others, and more so at various times of our lives. For example, in the late teens and early twenties, there is late-stage jaw growth that can occur, potentially causing the bite to deepen and the teeth to shift or relapse. In the past, these changes were often blamed on the eruption of the wisdom teeth, but such changes also occur in individuals who are congenitally missing their wisdom teeth, so we know that it has more to do with jaw development than eruption. There are other stages of life when the teeth will be more inclined to shift as well—periods of significant hormone changes, for example, such as during pregnancy or menopause. You may find that you’ll need to wear your retainers more frequently during such stages of life to keep your teeth from moving.

If your retainer should break or be lost, call your orthodontist immediately. The longer you wait before replacing your retainer, the more your teeth will have the opportunity to shift, and once they shift beyond a certain point, you may not be able to get the correction you desire without going back into braces or aligner treatment.

Remember, the goal is not only to have a terrific smile, but to hold it for the rest of your life. Braces and retainers go hand in hand. If you vow to be faithful wearing your retainer, you and that terrific smile can live happily ever after!

-Written by Karen Allard