Like many things in life, your retainer will need to be replaced when it starts to show signs of wear and tear. Fortunately, if you commit to proper retainer care, you’ll be able to wear your retainer for a while before you need to consider a replacement retainer!

Here’s what you need to know about replacing your retainer to maintain a beautiful smile for a lifetime:

How often should you replace your retainer?

How often you should replace your retainer depends on the type of retainer you have and how well you take care of it. If you tend to leave your retainer in napkins, mistake it for trash and throw it away, or you leave your retainer on the table and your dog likes to get a hold of it, you’re probably going to be visiting us for a replacement retainer sooner than later!

The best way to prolong your retainer’s life is by cleaning it 2 to 3 times a day (every time you brush your teeth), soaking it in a cleaning solution regularly, and storing it in a clean retainer case any time it’s not in your mouth.

We always say, “If it’s not in your face, it’s in your case!”

If you give your Hawley retainer the TLC It deserves, it can last anywhere from 5 to 10 years! These removable acrylic retainers are often replaced around 8 years. (See a picture below of a Hawley retainer for reference!)

Essix retainers (removable clear retainers, similar to Invisalign®) typically last about 3 years before they need to be replaced. (Essix retainer pictured below).

Clear Essix retainers held in hands wearing sterile gloves at Saxe Orthodontics

Your retainer may need to be replaced sooner than the average replacement time; it all depends on how you care for it. Here are a few ways to tell if you need to replace your retainer:

4 Signs that Indicate You Need a Replacement Retainer

1. Cracked retainer

If you notice some small cracks in your retainer, or you dropped it and it created a large crack, this indicates that you’ll need to replace your retainer.

Over time, small cracks will progress into larger cracks, which will reduce the effectiveness of your retainer and create additional spaces for bacteria to grow. Bacteria growth is the last thing you want! Wearing a dirty retainer can lead to bad breath, cavities, and gum disease. In fact, a 2011 study found that over 50% of retainers carry bacteria that usually aren’t found in your oral microbiome like candida (a type of yeast) and Staphylococcus (a group of bacteria that’s responsible for most infections).

2. Chipped retainer

Similar to a cracked retainer, a chipped retainer must be replaced as soon as possible. Chips can reduce the effectiveness of your retainer, and they can damage your cheeks or tongue if the chips create any sharp ends.

It’s never a good idea to fit a chipped or cracked retainer in your mouth. You don’t want pieces of your retainer falling off or your tongue getting nicked by a crack.

3. Retainer no longer fits

Your retainer may become loose or feel like it fits too tight after a while. Retainers naturally start to loosen up over time, as they wear down. It’s important to fix a loose retainer because your teeth are no longer being supported by your retainer, which means they’re likely to shift out of place!

When the teeth shift out of place, or ‘relapse’, you may need another orthodontic treatment to realign them. Taking care of your retainer and replacing it when necessary will ensure that you keep the smile you worked so hard for.

Don’t use any hot water with your retainer, especially an Essix retainer. Don’t put your retainer through the dishwasher or use any harsh chemicals on it either. This is how retainers become warped and misshapen.

4. There’s too much buildup

While your retainer should be cleaned daily to maintain its best shape, protect your smile health, and prolong its life, stubborn buildup can occur. If a thorough cleaning doesn’t work, it may be time for new retainers. Buildup is more often to occur on your retainers if you live in an area with hard water as calcium is notorious for leaving mineral deposits on surfaces.

What if my bottom retainer is loose?

If you have a lower fixed retainer or bonded retainer on your lower teeth, it’s important to know when to replace it. These retainers are also called permanent retainers because they can’t be removed on your own; they have to be removed by your orthodontist using a special tool.

Bonded retainers can last for years, but they also require care and maintenance. Sometimes they become unattached to your tooth or the wire itself may break. So if your bonded retainer does loosen up, contact us as soon as possible and we’ll schedule an appointment to reattach your retainer. There are also removable lower retainers— Hawley’s or Essix clear plastic retainers that can become loose or broken, we can help with those as well!

How to know if your retainer is fitting correctly

Your retainer should feel snug when it’s in place, but it shouldn’t be painful. If your teeth are throbbing when your retainer is in place, or it gives you a headache, these are signs that your retainer hasn’t been worn enough or maybe it’s been damaged/

It’s important that you never force your retainer in your mouth. If you can’t fit it back in your mouth easily, please contact us and we’ll take a look and make any necessary adjustments!

If your retainer falls out of your mouth when you speak, or it moves out of place without you adjusting it, these are signs that it’s too loose. Loose retainers should be replaced as soon as possible!

How do I get a new retainer?

You simply contact our team or fill out an appointment request form and let us know that you need a replacement retainer when we contact you!

If you weren’t previously one of our patients, we can still create a new retainer for you. We will discuss retainer costs when you visit us or reach out to us.

Still have questions about replacement retainers?

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with any questions! We’ll also tell you everything you need to know when you visit us for your complimentary consultation.

Our experienced orthodontist, Dr. Saxe, and our friendly team are here for you and your family every step of the way.

If you’re ready to get started, request your complimentary consultation with us today.