Retainers 101: Why You Need Them, How to Care for Them, And How Long Do You Have to Wear Them?

Thai woman putting Retainer fashion at tooth

On average, most people spend about one to three years with braces stuck to the front of their teeth. When you finally get to take those braces off, you might be disappointed to learn you have to keep wearing a retainer.

The good news is a retainer is much more comfortable (and convenient) than braces. But since you can take a retainer in and out, you do have to spend a bit more time taking care of it.

We’ve put together this guide to tell you everything you’ll need to know about your retainer, including why you have to wear it, how to take care of it, and how long you’ll need to keep it around.

Let’s get started!

The Importance of Wearing a Retainer 

You finally got all that metal off your teeth, but now you have to wear a retainer? Can’t you just skip this step?

Not so fast.

After the orthodontist removes your braces, your teeth will shift back into their original, crooked positions if you let them. Wearing a retainer (which you usually only have to do at night) will keep your teeth in the right spot, ensuring your smile stays straight and healthy.

You should never stop wearing your retainer too early or leave it out of your mouth for too long. Even missing a week can make the retainer feel tight and uncomfortable. Your orthodontist will give you a “schedule” about when and how long to wear your retainer, so make sure you follow it.

How to Take Care of Your Retainer 

Since you can take retainers in and out of your mouth (unlike braces), they’re easy to misplace or break. And they aren’t cheap either! Make sure you follow these care tips so you don’t have to spend extra money replacing your retainer.


Your retainer spends a lot of time in your mouth, meaning it’s exposed to all the same harmful bacterias as your teeth. If you don’t keep it clean, it will become a breeding ground for things like plaque and tartar, which can spread to your teeth and put your oral health at risk.

Dirty retainers also stink. If you don’t want to walk around with bad breath, you should clean your retainer as often (or even more often) as you clean your teeth.

An easy way to remember this is to clean it after every time you take it out of your mouth and before every time you put it in your mouth. Rinse it with lukewarm water to remove any bacteria or other debris.

You should also brush your retainer with toothpaste at least twice a day (same as your teeth). Use a non-whitening toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush to avoid damaging your retainer.

Give your retainer a good soak with a denture cleaning solution once a week. This will remove anything your toothbrush wasn’t able to reach over the last few days. (Don’t use hot water or the plastic might warp!).

You should never put your retainer in its case if the retainer is still wet. Otherwise, it can turn into a damp environment, which leads to bacteria growth. Spend an extra minute drying off your retainer before you put it away.


When your retainer isn’t in your mouth, you should always keep it in its case. This will keep it clean of dust or other grime, and it will protect your retainer from breaking if someone accidentally sits or steps on it.

If you’re worried about misplacing your retainer, choose a bright, noticeable case. It’s harder to lose something you can easily see. You should also keep your retainer case in the same spot whenever possible so you always know where it is.

Keep another case in your bag if you’re leaving the house. This way, you’ll have a place to put your retainer should you decide to get a bite to eat. Wrapping your retainer in a napkin might seem like a good short-term alternative, but it also makes it easy to mistake as trash (and you don’t want it to end up in the garbage!).

How Long Do You Have to Wear Your Retainer?

It’s hard to put an exact timeframe on how long you’ll have to wear a retainer. It’s different for every person, and it depends on the condition of your teeth.

However, you should expect to be wearing your retainer for the next several years to some extent. But don’t panic! Most of this wearing will happen at night.

When you first get your retainer, your orthodontist might tell you to wear it during the day and night. After about six months, they’ll shift your schedule so you only have to wear the retainer at night. Over time, you may only have to wear it every other day, then once a week, then only a few times a month, etc.

Talk to your orthodontist before you make any changes though. Otherwise, you may stop wearing it too early and cause your teeth to pop out of alignment again.

The First Step: Getting Through Your Braces Treatment 

Before you have to worry about taking care of a retainer, you have to get through your braces treatment first. And that all starts with a consultation.

Not sure where to go?

Our team at Moody Orthodontics can transform your smile and give your confidence a major boost. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with us today to learn more about our services or to schedule your free consultation!

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