The day you get your braces taken off is a big one! You finally get to eat all those treats that you’ve had to give up, and your smile is looking the best it’s ever been! However, you don’t want to get so caught up in the excitement that you forget that your treatment isn’t quite finished yet.

People used to think that when their braces came off that their teeth would stay straight from there on out. In the last twenty years or so, though, it’s been proven that there isn’t one right way to move teeth to guarantee a permanent result. Typically, as we age, our teeth will begin to move no matter what, whether we’ve had orthodontic treatment or not. So keeping a straight smile is a long-term commitment that doesn’t end just because your braces came off!

We at Dillehay Orthodontics constantly stress the importance of wearing your retainers after your braces come off. It can save your teeth from moving into less than desirable positions as you get older! There are two types of movement after orthodontic treatment, so let’s look at the changes they make.

Post-treatment shifting

After orthodontic treatment is finished, your teeth have a natural tendency to move back into their positions before you started treatment. It sounds strange, but this is due to the “memory” your gums and bones have of your teeth. Studies have shown that this tendency lessens over time, but it can last up to 18 months post-treatment.

There is another type of movement that is a much slower and longer lasting change that occurs over time. This is due to the “uprighting” movement of the front teeth on the lower jaw. This will occur naturally with age, but it can cause crowding as teeth move closer to the tongue.

Going through orthodontic treatment will solve crooked teeth initially, but it won’t keep a long-term result on its own. The best way to ensure that your teeth stay straight for good is by wearing your retainer.

What are retainers? How do they work?

A retainer is merely a plastic or metal device that keeps teeth aligned after a patient has completed orthodontic treatment with braces or Invisalign. They are individually molded to a patient’s mouth after they’ve finished treatment and provides the kind of pressure and guidance required to keep teeth from moving back into their original positions. Retainers quite literally “retain” teeth in their new positions.

When we customized a treatment plan for you, that includes the type of retainer that will be used and the duration of time it will be needed. There are a few common types of retainers: most are removable, but some are actually permanently fixed behind your front teeth. We are able to determine the appropriate retainer for you based on your particular treatment and age, among other factors.

There are two main types of removable retainers:

Hawley retainers

These retainers are commonly used for just the upper teeth. Hawley retainers consist of a plastic piece that is molded and lays against the roof of the mouth with an attached wire that surrounds the teeth in front of it.

Essix retainers

Essix retainers look very similar to Invisalign aligners. They are completely clear, fit over teeth, and are designed to be less noticeable than Hawley retainers.

Will I have to wear a retainer forever?

There are many factors that determine how long you will have to wear your retainer, but you won’t have to wear it 24/7 for too long. For the first three to six months post-treatment, most orthodontists recommend that you wear it at all times, save brushing and flossing your teeth. Once your teeth have become stabilized in this new position, you’ll be able to start wearing your retainer overnight only. Doing this over a period of 1-3 years will prevent an immediate relapse of the teeth. You won’t have to wear your retainer forever, but most orthodontists will recommend that you continue to wear it for two or three nights a week indefinitely to keep that beautiful, straight smile forever.

What will happen if I don’t wear my retainer?

Since retainers are meant to keep your teeth locked in a certain position, not wearing it as directed for a long period of time will cause some issues. Skipping a day or two won’t cause your teeth to immediately go right back into their old positions, but over time, they will gradually start to move back into their previous spots. Unfortunately, a lot of patients are diligent about wearing their retainers for the first few years after orthodontic treatment, but after a while, they start to wear it less and less until they stop wearing it altogether. As a result, this can cause noticeably shifted teeth.

What if my retainer doesn’t fit anymore?

If you go without wearing your retainer for a while, you might find that it doesn’t quite fit anymore due to the shifting of your teeth. Sometimes, if the misalignment is very slight, you might be able to fit it over your teeth, even if it isn’t a perfect fit. Consistently wearing a retainer that is only slightly too tight is usually able to push the teeth back into their original position. This is not encouraged, however, if the alignment is so far off that it requires force to put the retainer in place. The reason for this is that an ill-fitting retainer can harm the surface of the teeth or break the retainer. If you notice that your retainer isn’t fitting comfortably, get in touch with us and let us help you get fitted for a new one.


Every patient is going to experience movement to some degree when their braces come off, but wearing your retainer is the best defense against this. If you are in the Wichita or Derby area and are looking to get advice on your retainer, or if you need to be fitted for a new one, don’t hesitate to stop by one of our offices and let our friendly staff help you maintain the smile you worked so hard to get. At Dillehay Orthodontics, we’re dedicated to helping you keep the smile of your dreams!