What Happens To Your Teeth When You Wear A Retainer

First, time for a high-five! You've made it through the long months of wearing braces and can now proudly flash your perfect smile to the world. You might wonder, since the hard work of actually moving your teeth into the right position is finally finished, what's the point of a retainer? Shouldn't you just be done already?

Sorry to dim the celebration a little, but according to the American Association of Orthodontists, the post-braces "retention" stage that you're now in is every bit as important as the "active" braces stage — and in virtually all cases, that involves wearing a retainer (via WebMD).

Retainers come in two general types – they can be either permanently bonded to the back of your teeth, or they can be removable. In either case, the retainer is custom-designed to fit your teeth, and the purpose is the same – to keep the teeth in place and to protect the major investment you've already made (via Dental Essentials). Teeth, it turns out, are actually pretty moveable.

Wearing a retainer is important for keeping teeth in place

After braces come off, the teeth continue to shift. Retainers keep teeth in place while bone rebuilds around them and they are stabilized in their new position (via WebMD). That's why neglecting to wear your retainer can do so much damage. Vick Gupta, an orthodontist at Gupta Orthodontics in Dallas, says "Not wearing retainers can lead to relapse in our teeth positions—meaning they tend to go back to their starting position. This is especially true in the first year after completing orthodontic treatment, as our gingival (gum) and ligament fibers are reorganizing to the new teeth positions during this time."

Forgetting to wear the retainer, not wearing it enough, or losing it, might land you back in a place you'd really rather not be – needing braces again. That's why it's important to follow your orthodontist's instructions on how to care for it and how long to wear it, whether it's a few hours per day or every night for the rest of your life (via Ask An Orthodontist). 

Consider it essential after-care. Mahnaz Rashti, a periodontist in Beverly Hills, warns "No matter what, once the treatment is over, they must wear the retainer in order to keep their smile proper" (via WebMD).