Night time for Lifetime

Everyone who has their teeth aligned, and arguably even people who haven't but have naturally straight teeth, should wear retainers to keep their teeth straight. Our teeth will want to move our entire lives, whether we've had braces or not. So the best advice is to wear your retainers all the time except for when you're eating or brushing/flossing for the first three months after aligning your teeth, and then after that, at night time for lifetime!

Retainer Types

There are three main retainer types:

1) Clear plastic retainers

2) Traditional retainers

3) Glued-in retainers

Pros and Cons of Each Retainer Type

Some offices simply decide which type of retainers their patients will receive, but we like to provide ours with the pros and cons of each so they can pick which type works best for them.

"Which retainers are best?"

It depends on both your unique initial orthodontic issues as well as your personal preferences and habits. About 90% of patients choose clear plastic retainers. When it comes to teenagers in particular, the main concern is that the retainer is worn. Studies have shown compliance rates wearing the traditional retainers (often called Hawley retainers) is lower, in part because the traditional retainer is more visible with a wire in front and can be more difficult to speak with.

Teenagers in general tend to overestimate their resolve to wear retainers long-term, but personality differences between individuals are more important than any general group-based rule--some of our teenagers are very responsible.

Removable Retainers

Rule 1: In the case or in your face! They only work if they're worn.

Rule 2: Must be worn 24/7 for the first 3 months. After that, they only need to be worn while sleeping

Rule 3: Need to be worn for as long as you want to keep your teeth straight ­­-- the rest of your life!

  • While some patients can get away with wearing their retainers just occasionally, this is risky because once the habit is lost, a few times a week turns into a few times a month, and then zero times a month. We see patients all the time that are back in orthodontic treatment because they lost, broke, and simply forgot to wear their retainers after treatment. It's much easier, faster, cheaper, and more comfortable to keep teeth straight than to fix them if they move again! Establish a habit!

  • If you decide not to wear them every night, just be sure they ALWAYS still fit. If when you put your retainers in, they are really tight, that's a signal to you that you need to wear them more often.

  • Some patients seem to believe that THEIR teeth won't move. They WILL move, given enough time. Just play it safe.

Fixed Retainers

Some orthodontists love fixed retainers. Some greatly dislike them. The same feelings exist amongst patients as well. Dr. Cardall doesn't love them, but can see the benefit of a lower glued-in retainer in a patient who struggles to remember to wear a removable retainer.

All fixed retainers are wires that are glued to the tongue side of your front teeth. They are much more common on the lower teeth than upper teeth.

Rule 1: Must avoid very hard or sticky foods that can break them (similar to eating with braces)

Rule 2: Must brush and clean around them well, and have them checked by your dentist every visit

  • Some people call these “permanent” retainers and mistakenly believe they should last forever.

  • However, just like a car needs repairs, fixed retainers can break or wear out and need replacing.

  • Upper retainers in particular WILL break, it's just a matter of time.


When your removable retainers get worn down by teeth grinding, another solution to protect teeth while keeping them straight (and not destroying your retainers constantly and getting new ones all the time) is to get a nightguard. A nightguard is commonly worn on the top or bottom arch, and a normal retainer is worn on the other arch.

Here are some photos of a nightguard:

nightguard in hand

nightguard on dental model

nightguard on table

nightguard on table

nightguard in mouth