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How Long Can You Go Without Wearing Your Retainer

by Annabel Caldwell
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How Long Can You Go Without Wearing Your Retainer

How Long Can You Go Without Wearing Your Retainer

Some people may need to wear their retainer 24 hours a day for up to 4 months, while other people may be advised to wear theirs full-time for 8 to 10 months.

If you have ever worn retainers (also called night guards), then you know that they can feel weird at first — even if your dentist is the best in the world and has used them on thousands of patients before. But after about two weeks, you’ll probably notice that wearing retainers isn’t as uncomfortable as it was when you started. And by the end of six or eight weeks, you might not even remember why you were so afraid of having those things stuck in your mouth all night!
It’s true that some people may need to wear their retainers 24/7 for up to four months; others may only need to use them once every couple of days or week. Either way, there are many different factors that determine how long someone should go without removing his or her retainer. The good news is that the longer you’re able to wear one, the easier it will become — but sometimes, it takes time and practice to get comfortable with something new. So what’s the longest anyone has gone?
“The average retention period is usually between three and eight weeks,” says Dr. Jeffrey Seltzer, who practices dentistry in New York City. “This really depends on the patient and the type of appliance.” For example, he explains, if you’re missing just one tooth, it’s possible to wear your retainer around the clock but most people take off their retainers during meals because it’s too difficult to eat with a retainer in place. If you’re missing several teeth, however, the case gets more complicated. Some patients take out their retainers completely for a few months and then resume wearing them for about a year before taking them out again. Others find that they can keep them in for five years or more.
What are the benefits of wearing your retainer for such a long time? “There are many potential advantages to wearing your retainer for an extended period of time,” Dr. Seltzer notes. “For example, if you lose a tooth, it could fall out accidentally and require immediate replacement. In this scenario, wearing your retainer would prevent any harm from occurring due to the loss of an important molar.” Also, if you have dental implants or bridges, wearing a retainer provides protection for these fixtures, which can also break down over time.
But perhaps the biggest reason to wear your retainer for a long time is aesthetic. “Your smile looks great when you wake up in the morning!” says Dr. Seltzer. “It makes you look younger and happier than when you put your retainer back in.”
So now you’ve decided to stay with your retainer for the long haul. How do you make sure it doesn’t cause problems for your oral health? First of all, don’t forget to follow your dentist’s instructions regarding care for your retainer. It’s crucial to clean your retainer regularly to avoid buildup, and you should be especially careful if you’re using a soft retainer material like rubber or vinyl. Make sure to remove excess food particles, plaque and stains with a non-scratch brush specially designed for cleaning retainers. Never submerge yours in water or leave it sitting under hot steam for too long. Finally, never sleep with your retainer in — it won’t help your jaw muscles relax and you may end up suffocating yourself if your retainer falls into your throat.
Now that we’ve established why it’s okay to wear your retainer indefinitely, let’s talk about how much you should actually eat and drink while wearing one. Most dentists recommend limiting yourself to one small meal per hour and no sugary drinks or alcohol. These recommendations are based on research showing that if you consume large amounts of sugar or carbohydrates shortly after you take out your retainer, they can weaken the bond between the acrylic and your gums. This means that it’s best to wait until later in the evening to eat anything substantial.
Of course, it’s impossible to maintain proper oral hygiene with a retainer in place. As such, you must remember to floss daily and schedule regular appointments with your dentist to check on your gum health. Don’t neglect routine visits to the dentist either. “Even though it seems counterintuitive, brushing your teeth with a retainer in place can damage your pearly whites,” cautions Dr. Seltzer. He recommends keeping a small mirror near where you brush so you can watch your mouth as you work. Doing so helps you see areas of your mouth that you wouldn’t otherwise notice. However, it’s still recommended that you rinse your mouth thoroughly with warm saltwater after brushing to ensure that you aren’t swallowing any stray bits of your retainer.
Wearing your retainer indefinitely comes with its own set of challenges. One of the main issues is getting used to sleeping with one in. “You may experience pain, pressure and soreness in your face, neck, shoulders and upper chest area,” warns Dr. Seltzer. “These symptoms usually subside within a few weeks of wearing your retainer continuously.” Another common problem is dry socket, which occurs when blood flow to your gums is disrupted after a tooth is extracted. Dry socket often requires medical attention and can be painful to heal. Lastly, it’s very easy to get bored with eating the same foods and watching TV all day. To combat boredom, try experimenting with different recipes and menu options.
If you decide to give up your retainer, don’t worry — you can always come back to wearing one sooner rather than later. Just make sure to consult with your dentist before doing so to make sure your oral health is fine.
According to the American Association of Orthodontists, the average adult loses 3.5 teeth each year through normal aging processes.

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