How Long Should My Orthodontic Retainer Last?


How long should my retainer last? While “your mileage may vary,” here are some good estimates:

Thin wire retainers bonded to the backs of your teeth will eventually come loose, especially the top ones! The glue used to hold them in place just wears out as you eat, brush, floss, and play with them with your tongue. An upper bonded retainer will last somewhere between 1 and 3 years. A lower will usually last longer since is it not “in the line of fire” when you eat. Although all retainers allow some movement and change in tooth position, you should have your retainers looked at if you notice spaces between the teeth, obvious changes in tooth position, or if your tongue detects a rough edge or movement of the wire that you didn't notice before.

Canine-to-canine (3-to-3) bonded retainers are typically more durable. Although some may come dislodged within a few years of placement, we have patients with retainers that are going on 20 years without problems. If you feel that one or both ends of your bonded 3-to-3 retainers are loose, get in to your orthodontist immediately!

Removable retainers come in two “flavors.” Essix retainers (clear snap-on) are heat-formed from a single piece of plastic and have nothing that can fall apart. There are four reasons they will need to be replaced: 1) they just get gross (just like contact lenses, tennis shoes, or anything else that you wear daily), 2) you wear through the plastic, 3) you accidentally put them in hot water and they “relax,” or 4) the position of your teeth changes enough that the retainer doesn’t fit anymore. This fourth reason will require that you have a new “mold” made of your teeth.

Wrap-around or Hawley retainers are constructed of acrylic and wire. They can get “gross” like Essix retainers or they can eventually fall apart. Even with daily cleaning using denture cleaners like Efferdent, the plastic on these retainers can begin to look and taste bad. Some wrap-around retainers have solder that holds the wires together. Enzymes in your mouth and daily cleaning can eventually dissolve the solder so that it has to be repaired. Finally, abuse and changes to the teeth can also make it so that the retainer just doesn’t fit anymore.

If your retainer doesn’t look or fit like it used to, it may be time for an adjustment, repair, or replacement. The cost for these services is much less than re-treatment!

NOTE: The author, Dr. Greg Jorgensen, is a board-certified orthodontist who is in the private practice of orthodontics in Rio Rancho, New Mexico (a suburb on the Westside of Albuquerque). He was trained at BYU, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Iowa in the United States. Dr. Jorgensen’s 25 years of specialty practice and nearly 10,000 finished cases qualify him an expert in two-phase treatment, extraction and non-extraction therapy, functional orthodontics, clear aligners (Invisalign), and multiple bracket systems (including conventional braces, Damon and other self-ligating brackets, Suresmile, and lingual braces). This blog is for informational purposes only and is designed to help consumers understand currently accepted orthodontic concepts. It is not a venue for debating alternative treatment theories. Dr. Jorgensen is licensed to diagnose and treat patients only in the state of New Mexico. He cannot diagnose cases described in comments nor can he select treatment plans for readers. Please understand that because he has tens of thousands of readers each month, IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR HIM TO RESPOND TO EVERY QUESTION. Please read all of the comments associated with each article as most of the questions he receives each week have been asked and answered previously. The opinions expressed here are protected by copyright laws and can only be used with written permission from the author.