I Stopped Wearing My Retainer, Now What?

If you’ve worn braces or clear aligners, it’s natural to be excited once your orthodontic treatment is complete and you get to enjoy your new smile. However, you aren’t done just yet. You will have to wear a retainer regularly to keep your new smile healthy and straight. But, what happens if you stop wearing your retainer?

Why It’s Important to Wear Your Retainer

Once your braces or aligners are removed, your orthodontist will recommend you wear a retainer. It’s very important to follow your orthodontist’s instructions and wear your retainer for the full length of time. Why? Our teeth never stop moving, even as an adult, and after your braces or aligners are removed, your teeth will be inclined to move back to their original positions. This is especially true for the first several weeks after treatment, as your teeth are the most vulnerable to shifting.

What Not to Do If You Stopped Wearing Your Retainer

There are many reasons why patients stop wearing their retainer. Some simply forget to put it in after they eat or brush their teeth. Sometimes, they forget why they need to wear it, or decide it isn’t worth the hassle, and they stop wearing it on purpose. Over time, retainers can also break, warp, or get lost, and patients just don’t want to go through the process to get a replacement.

For whatever reason, if you’ve stopped wearing your retainer for any significant amount of time, don’t attempt to start wearing it again. Your teeth have likely started shifting toward their old positions, and if you try to fit your retainer back in your mouth, you could hurt your teeth or gums. Your retainer should go in easily and fit comfortably, so if you have to jam it back in, wearing it probably will do more harm than good.

What to Do If You Stopped Wearing Your Retainer 

If something has happened to your retainer – it no longer fits, it’s warped or broken, or you can’t find it – make an appointment with your orthodontist as soon as possible. Ideally, you should get a replacement retainer right away if you broke or lost your retainer. Even if you haven’t worn your retainer for a while and your teeth have started to shift, you may be able to get by with a new retainer.

However, if your teeth have started to significantly shift, you may need orthodontic treatment again. Fortunately, there are several accelerated treatment options available, like Invisalign Lite or Invisalign Express, which are great choices for patients whose teeth have regressed. These shortened versions can be completed in just weeks or months, meaning you can get your smile back on track in no time.   

Have more questions about wearing your retainer? Check out this helpful list of Q&As below. If you still have questions or would like to know more, give us a call!

Frequently Asked Retainer Questions

Is it OK to not wear my retainer for one night?

If you skip wearing your retainer for one night, it’s unlikely your teeth will move significantly. However, if you skip wearing it often, give us a call to make sure your teeth haven’t shifted and that you don’t require additional treatment.

Can I go 3 days without my retainer?

Retainers are designed to keep your teeth in place, so going without wearing it for a long period of time may cause some issues. It’s fine to miss a day or two, but if you go without it much longer than that, your teeth will start to shift.

What happens if you don’t wear your retainer for several months?

After a month of not using your retainer, you may notice your bite has changed and your teeth have started to move back into their original position. At this point, you will need to schedule an appointment with our team to get fitted for a different retainer.

Can I wear my retainer after not wearing it for months or years?

Don’t even try to wear an old retainer if you haven’t worn it for several months or years! You could cause more harm than good trying to refit it into your mouth. Your old retainer could become stuck, cause pain, or even damage your teeth and gums. Instead, schedule an appointment with an orthodontist and take your old retainer with you.

How long can you go without wearing your retainer?

Most orthodontists recommend wearing your retainer consistently for anywhere between three to 12 months post-treatment. You can then move to wearing your retainer only at night once your teeth have stabilized in their new position.

Can I stop wearing my retainer after 2 years?

Retainers keep your smile in place when active treatment is complete. Your orthodontist can give you a better idea of how long you may need to wear your retainer consistently for the best results. Generally, patients need to wear their retainers for life to ensure their smiles don’t regress.

How can I start wearing my retainer again?

Try gently putting the retainer back in your mouth. If it’s too tight or you feel like you have to force it into place, stop. Your retainer no longer fits properly. Contact an orthodontist and make an appointment. You may need to have your old retainer adjusted or get a new one.

Should I wear my retainer if it hurts?

If you are experiencing discomfort due to your retainer or aligner when you first start wearing it, give it a couple days for your smile to adjust. If the pain is minor, over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help. If the pain persists or is intense, contact your orthodontist.

Can my old retainer re-straighten my teeth?

Maybe. Don’t try to force your old retainer into your mouth, especially if you haven’t worn it for several months or years. Call your orthodontist and see if they can adjust your old retainer, or if you need a new one to re-straighten your teeth.

Can retainers damage enamel?

Yes. A Hawley retainer, which consists of a wire around the front of the teeth and hard plastic that goes against the roof of your mouth, can damage the enamel of your teeth if not worn properly. Avoid flipping the retainer with your tongue while it’s in your mouth. This could damage your teeth or even break your retainer.

How long does it take for teeth to shift?

Our teeth never stop moving! After treatment, you may notice minor shifts in your teeth in about four weeks, especially if you’re not wearing your retainer consistently. More visible shifts may appear after about two to three months.

Why does my retainer smell?

Plaque, tartar, and bacteria can build up on the surface of your retainer, making it smell funny. While brushing and flossing your teeth are important, regular cleaning of your retainer is also important!

Do retainers close gaps?

No. Because retainers are made and fitted at the end of your treatment, they help keep your teeth straight, but don’t create additional straightening to close gaps. If you have concerns with gaps in your teeth, make sure to ask your orthodontist for the best treatment options.

Can I straighten my teeth without wearing a retainer?

Maybe. Your dentist or orthodontist may be able to correct the look of minor misaligned teeth, using either a crown or a veneer. However, this is a cosmetic adjustment only, not an actual straightening.

Can retainers move teeth back without braces?

Yes, retainers can occasionally be used without braces to straighten minor misalignment issues. But, to do the best possible job without causing additional damage, the retainer must fit your teeth perfectly, as they did when the braces were first removed.

Is it OK if I don’t wear my retainer for a week or two?

Throughout your retention phase, it’s possible for your teeth to shift a bit if you go without wearing your retainer for a week or two. Your retainer may feel tight on your teeth when you put it back in. You may also notice some small spaces starting between your teeth.