Do I have to wear a retainer every night for the rest of my life?

The positions of your teeth, as you sit and read this article, are determined by a variety of factors: The size of your teeth, the size of your jaws, the way you breathe, the action of your facial muscles, the action of your tongue, and more. Orthodontics would not be considered a “natural” treatment. Malocclusion is not a disease; orthodontic treatment is not a cure.

Following orthodontic treatment, your teeth will want to gravitate back to the pre-treatment positions. This fact is not disputed by any orthodontic practitioner. The unknown variable is the extent to which a treatment will relapse if measures are not taken to maintain the result. Regardless of the strategies employed by orthodontists, or the methods of communicating it, a common question arises borne out of a patient or parents’ realization: “You mean I have to wear a retainer for the rest of my life?’ The answer to this question can vary. One of my mentors used to reply “NO! You only have to wear it for the rest of MY life because after I’m dead, I don”t really care what happens to your teeth!” Lately, my go-to reply is that a patient needs to wear a retainer for as long as they want their teeth to look AS good as they look right as treatment is finished. In fact, many parents cynically reply to what seems like a lifetime sentence of nightly retainer wear by commenting that they themselves had braces, they haven’t worn a retainer in years, and their teeth look FINE. And, they DO look fine, but they don’t look amazing. THIS is the heart of the issue. Currently, I present myself around town with a mostly bald pate and physique that is tall but lacking in any impressive definition, and yet I have a pretty high self-esteem about my appearance. In a sense, I am the person that is “fine” with their “ok” looking smile. Other people will go to extreme effort or cost to look as good as possible. On the spectrum of required effort and cost, slapping a piece of plastic on your teeth before bed is as easy as it gets. Imagine if there was a cap that could be worn at night that could prevent baldness or a belt that could be worn during sleep and prevent weight gain? Those appliances would literally be the inventions of the millennium, but a retainer is hardly such a celebrated device. But in my view, its similarly miraculous.