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How Long Do You Have to Wear a Retainer?

By February 2, 2023 August 12th, 2023 No Comments
closeup of person's mouth and teeth with a retainer

Alright, your braces are finally coming off! You know you’re getting a retainer, but exactly how long do you have to it? Don’t worry, because I’m going to answer that and a whole lot more.

Your retainer is an important component of your treatment and it is vital that you wear it as directed by your orthodontist. We’ll dive into the different types of retainers that you’re likely to come across so that you will be prepared for what’s in store. 

How Long Do You Have to Wear a Retainer - Understanding What Retainers Are For

Hey, I get it. Wearing braces for however long you had to wasn’t exactly a walk in the park. In fact, it was probably downright irritating. Having your braces removed is a huge relief that you’ve been looking forward to since your first day of treatment.

Now you have to wear something else? Can’t you just skip this part? And how long should you wear your retainer anyway? Fear not, it isn’t as bad as you think. 

Retainers are a remarkable appliance that plays a big role in your orthodontic treatment. Without them, you run the risk of reversing all that hard work that your braces did. As you will learn, retainers keep your teeth in line after your braces come off. Looking after your teeth and gums remains equally important.

I understand that the last thing you want to do is wear something else on your teeth. But if you understand their purpose and why they are so crucial in your treatment, you are likely to be more apt to wear them as directed.

So, how long do you have to wear a retainer after your braces come off? Let’s find out!

a person at the dentist's

Do Retainers Have to Be Worn All the Time?

The good news is that, no, you will not have to wear your retainer all the time? Your orthodontist will inform you as to how long to wear a retainer after braces. 

Each patient is different, with different needs in their treatment. Depending on your oral status, you may have to wear your retainer less or more than others. However long you are told to wear it, that’s what you need to stick to as best you can.

You should expect to wear your retainer for a good portion of time following your braces coming off. Fortunately, this is usually only for a time, and you will soon be able to reduce the amount of time that your retainer needs to be worn.

Your orthodontist will schedule you for regular appointments to observe your progress. They know how long to wear retainers and when you can cut back. Be sure to follow their instructions and you will have an easier experience.

Wearing Retainers After Braces: What to Know

How long does it take to get braces off? Do you remember? It probably seemed like forever, but you surely felt elated when the day finally arrived (or got the news that it’s about to arrive). With all that you went through, don’t you want to ensure that you don’t have to go through it again?

That’s what your retainer is for. So, what does a retainer do? There are different kinds of retainers that you’ll be presented with. Which one you choose depends on your needs as a patient. To help you better understand each type of retainer and the purpose it serves, I’ve detailed them below.

a person putting on the retainers

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Types of Retainers


We’ll start with the most common, the Hawley retainer. The Hawley has been used for quite some time following braces treatment. It is made out of a combination of plastic and metal.

Like other retainers, the Hawley is custom-made to form-fit your mouth and teeth. It is removable, so you will need to be sure to take care of it as best you can.

Being made mostly of plastic, Hawleys are easy to bend out of place. If this happens, you will need to see your orthodontist to have it restored to its original shape. In addition, make sure to check out all about plastic retainer cleaning.

You want to make doubly sure that you never leave your Hawley retainer where it can get too hot, like in your car during the day. Doing so can result in warping, thus making it useless to you.

Accidentally bumping or dropping it can cause it to lose its shape, as well. If you go with a Hawley, you need to be sure that you can keep it safe, as replacing the retainers is quite costly.

The metal wires found in Hawley retainers are responsible for keeping your teeth straight. They are designed in a way that allows your orthodontist to make minor adjustments every so often.

So, how long do you have to wear retainers from Hawley? Again, everyone is different. But on average, you might have to wear a Hawley retainer for a couple of years following your braces.

At first, you may be told to wear your Hawley retainer for as much as 18 hours a day. However, this is likely to be reduced after a few months, at which time you may need only to wear it at night.

retainers on the white background


These retainers are specifically designed to remain in your mouth at all times. As their name implies, this retainer is bonded to your teeth. With a bonded retainer, you never have to worry about misplacing it or forgetting to wear it.

Your orthodontist will use a composite resin compound that hardens to look and feel like a real tooth. Many patients prefer bonded retainers because they are easier to care for and they aren’t noticeable like other types.

This is because the retainer is bonded to the back of your teeth, not the front. If you have to wear a retainer at all times following the removal of your braces, the bonded variant is your best bet.

How long do you wear retainers that are bonded? Usually, it’s only for a few months after your braces come off. This is to ensure that your teeth get the best treatment possible, especially if you have trouble remembering to wear your retainer.

It’s important to note that bonded retainers come with some special instructions. For one, flossing is more difficult with the type of retainer. That’s because there is a metal bar running along the back of your teeth. 

You will need to be extra cautious in how you floss. Another thing is that you will need to be careful when eating certain foods.

Bonded retainers aren’t indestructible (neither are other types of retainers, for that matter). They have been known to break if too much force is applied to them. Knowing that, you will want to watch how you chew food.

The good news is that you will find that it won’t take long before it becomes second nature in how you eat. You will quickly learn what foods to be careful with and what teeth to utilize the most often.


This type of retainer is really popular and loved by many. Because it is clear, it’s virtually invisible to others. If you don’t like the thought of more metal strapped to your teeth, the clear plastic kind is a welcome change.

How long do retainers last that are clear plastic? It really depends on how well you take care of it. This is true for all types, actually. Since this type is made of plastic, it can lose its shape if you’re not careful with it. You never want to clean a clear plastic retainer with hot water.

Use cold water only. That means no special cleaning solutions or chemicals are needed. Cold water is completely sufficient in keeping your clear plastic retainer clean of bacteria and debris.

You want to clean it often, as the porous nature of this retainer is capable of absorbing food particles and housing harmful bacteria.

model of clear retainers

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How Many Hours per Day Do You Need to Wear a Retainer?

Upon receiving your retainer, the first question you are probably going to ask is, “How long should I wear my retainer?” This largely depends on the type of retainer you are given to wear. 

As I stated above, a bonded retainer is worn all the time. You can’t take it out as the other types I detailed. Those other types, however, are a bit different. 

Your orthodontist will give you specific directions depending on your needs. Again, you might have to wear your retainer longer than others, or you might have to wear it less. 

For the most part, you should expect to wear your retainer all the time for the first few months. The only time that you should take it out is when you’re eating and when you clean your retainer.

Wearing your retainer around the clock can last anywhere between 4 and 9 months, with the latter being the most recommended by professionals. If you want to get the best results, you should probably wear it for 9 months.

Just be sure to follow the directions given to you by your orthodontist, as they will know what’s best for you based on your dental needs.

What Happens if I Don't Wear My Retainer?

This is a big deal. Your retainer is designed to keep your teeth in place after your braces come off. You see, just because your teeth are now straight doesn’t mean that they want to stay that way. 

In fact, it’s quite the opposite. There was a lot of work done by your braces to move your teeth into a straighter position. As such, your teeth are going to want to naturally revert back to their original positioning as much as they can. 

Obviously, they can only move so far. But it’s enough to cause your teeth to lose their straightness. This is where your retainer comes in. It is carefully crafted to fit your teeth after they have been straightened and to close a gap in your teeth if there are any.

A custom mold is created and sent to a technician to make your retainer specifically for your teeth. When worn, our retainer prevents your teeth from shifting.

When not worn, your teeth will start to move out of place. If you neglect to wear your retainer long enough, it’s possible that your teeth could get so bad that you will need to start from the beginning and get braces all over again.

How long can you go without wearing your retainer? It might be tempting to let your retainer take a back seat here and there. But I assure you that this is a dangerous proposition. 

Just a couple of weeks could cause your teeth to shift from their beautifully straight positioning. Don’t risk it! No one wants to start their treatment all over again.

And you certainly don’t want to hear it from your orthodontist who invested their time and energy into helping you achieve straighter teeth.

But that’s not all you’ll have to worry about. As you now know, braces aren’t cheap by any stretch of the imagination. You don’t want all of that expense to go down the drain and you definitely don’t want to shell out money for braces again.

How can you avoid all of this? The answer is quite simple. Wear your retainer as directed. Make it a habit, like brushing your teeth or taking a shower. It might seem a little weird at first, but it won’t take long before it becomes a natural part of your daily grind. 

young smiling woman wearing retainers

Do You Have to Wear Retainers Forever?

Most patients who wear braces need to wear a retainer for the rest of their lives. This may sound rather intimidating at first, but it’s not as bad as it sounds.

After your braces are removed, you can expect to wear your retainer often. For the first few months following the removal of your braces, you are likely to be directed to wear your retainer around the clock.

As I mentioned a moment ago, this can last for as much as 9 months. However, it’s only temporary. Once your orthodontist deems that you are OK to reduce the amount of time you are to wear your retainer, you will have more freedom to go without it.

For example, some people are able to go all throughout the day without their retainers. The only time that they have to wear it is when they go to bed. At this stage in your treatment, you won’t have to worry about packing your retainer around with you wherever you go.

This frees you up for less responsibility. Plus, you don’t have to fear accidentally damaging your retainer or leaving it somewhere. 

You may simply leave it at home and go about your day untethered from your retainer. Most people leave theirs on the nightstand or in the bathroom so that they remember to put it on before they go to sleep.

Whatever the case may be for you, it won’t take you long to figure out how to incorporate your retainer into your regular routine. Just be sure to take care of your retainer at all costs.

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