Retaining Your Smile: Everything You Need to Know About Retainers

Once you finish treatment, it’s all about the retainer. Retainers are dental appliances that keep teeth from moving out of their corrected positions during modern orthodontic treatment. In other words, retainers retain your smile.


Let’s take a closer look at the types of retainers we use, why they might feel tight sometimes, how to maintain your retainer and what to do if your retainer breaks. 


The Types of Retainers We Might Recommend


There is more than one type of retainer, including: 


Essix: As a clear and removable retainer, the Essix retainer is both invisible and custom-fitted. The Essix retainer is a great option. However, it can lead to plaque accumulation on your teeth, which can irritate your gums and cause bleeding. 


Hawley: Also removable, this type is the traditional one you probably picture when someone talks about a retainer. It has an acrylic part that fits in the roof of your mouth and a wire that holds the teeth in place. These need daily cleaning and should be stored in the retainer’s hard plastic case when they are not in the mouth as the appliance can break or change shape easily.


Fixed: These retainers attach to the back of your teeth and stay there. These retainers are easy to maintain, but it is critical to mind your gum care around them. Fixed retainers can collect plaque and tartar around them, irritating your surrounding soft tissue.


Why Does My Removable Retainer Feel Tight?


It might feel tight when you first get your retainer, which is normal. The idea behind the retainer is to hold the teeth in place after modern orthodontic treatment. The supporting bone underneath your newly aligned teeth needs time to heal around the teeth in their new position, and the retainer holds them in place while this happens. If you didn’t wear the retainer, the teeth might shift back to their original position, making your orthodontic treatment a big waste of time and money. 


At first, with removable retainers, we have you wear them all the time. Then, after a couple of months, we switch to wearing them only at night when sleeping. However, if you don’t wear it for a while, the retainer might feel tight when you wear it again. Teeth shift because of forces, including biting, chewing, swallowing, and speaking. 


The good news is that the retainer can shift the teeth back where they belong again, even if it is tight at first. Just wear it all day, every day for a few days, until the tightness decreases a bit, and then go back to wearing it at night. 


However, if it hurts or doesn’t fit back over your teeth, you might need to come back in and let us take a look. We might have to do a bit of clear aligner therapy to get things back in order again.


When Should I Replace My Retainer?


With proper care and cleaning, most retainers last around two years. However, if you notice that the retainer has cracks or dents in the material, that means the retainer is weaker in those spots, which could mean that it isn’t effective at holding the teeth in place anymore. Also, if the retainer smells terrible, it could mean that they have plaque and other bacteria built upon them, and it might be time to replace it.  


If you lose your retainer, you should let us know right away. We would like to see you get a replacement as soon as possible so that your teeth don’t shift too much and extend your treatment timeline. 


What Should I Do If My Retainer Breaks?


Despite your best efforts, you might break your retainer. For example, retainers sometimes fail because of age, hard foods, or if you suffer a mouth injury. You should call us if this happens to you, and we can determine whether we can fix the retainer or if we need to replace it. 


For removable appliances, take it out. You can take a photo of it and send it to us. Or call and make an appointment to come in. 


For fixed retainers, please make an appointment to remove the bonded appliance in the office. While you wait to come in, you might want to get an over-the-counter mouthguard to wear at night that will protect the device and your soft tissues. Then, once we see you in the office, we can determine if we will fix or replace it. 



If your broken retainer causes injury in your mouth, rinse with warm saltwater. It will help any sore spots and aid the healing process. 



Retainers are the key to holding onto the smile you worked so hard to get with your modern orthodontic treatment. That is, they are if you are still wearing them. If you have any questions or problems with your retainer, please don’t hesitate to call the office. 




McCarthy, Tom. “Which Retainer is Right for You?” 26 August 2019. Web. 10 February 2022. <>. 


“What is an Essix Retainer?” Web. 10 February 2022. <>.


Hawley Retainer: Proven to Maintain Your Straight Smile.” Web. 10 February 2022. <>.


“How Long Do You Have to Wear a Retainer When Your Braces Come Off?” Web. 10 February 2022. <>. 


“My Retainer Feels Tight. Can I Still Wear it? 6 April 2021. Web. 10 February 2022.


“What to Know Before You Get a Retainer.” 29 May 2018. Web. 10 February 2022. <>. 


McCarthy, Tom. “When Should You Replace Your Retainer?” 20 January 2020. Web. 10 February 2022. <,they%20no%20longer%20fit%20properly.>. 


“Taking Care of Retainers.” 27 October 2017. Web. 10 February 2022. <>. 


“Broken Retainer? Here’s What You Can Do.” Web. 10 February 2022.