Closeup of woman smiling and wearing a retainer

Temporary Retainer: A Guide for Wear and Care

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

It seems like it's taken forever, but you've finally gotten your braces off. While the journey may seem like it's come to an end, it's critical that all of the movement your teeth have undergone is maintained to make the most of your orthodontic transformation. The next phase is to wear a retainer on your teeth, to help them settle into position and keep them straight for years to come.

Once your braces have been removed, your dentist or orthodontist will first take an impression of your teeth and gums. The impression is sent to a lab, where your custom-fit, removable retainer is created.

While you wait for the actual retainer to arrive, your dentist will have you wear a temporary retainer. Temporary retainers aren't the same as permanent, removable retainers and should only be worn until the final retainer is ready.

Here are a few ways to care for your temporary retainer while you wait for the real deal.

Wearing a Temporary Retainer

You can think of temporary retainers as a practice run for wearing your final, removable retainer. Wear the retainer at all times, as directed by your dentist or orthodontist. Failing to wear your retainer at all times can lead to two problems:

  1. It can cause your teeth to shift out of position, potentially undoing all the orthodontic work you spent a considerable amount of time and money on.
  2. It increases the risk that you may lose the retainer. Retainers aren't very large, and it's easy to misplace them or have them accidentally tossed in the trash.

The only time it's recommended to remove your retainer is while you're eating, brushing, or flossing. When you do have to remove your retainer, store it in a carrying case to reduce the risk of losing or damaging it.

Caring for the Retainer

Although you'll only have a temporary retainer for a short amount of time, it helps to get in the habit of caring for it and keeping it clean. Caring for your temporary retainer will help you establish a routine and get you ready for caring for the final permanent retainer.

How you clean and care for your retainer depends on the materials it's made out of. Toothpaste, especially whitening toothpaste, may be too abrasive for temporary retainers and can scratch them. Use a mildly abrasive toothpaste with a soft toothbrush and water to clean your retainer, and be sure to rinse it off well.

Making the Switch

How long will you have to wear a temporary retainer? It takes about a week for the final removable retainer to be ready for you to use in many cases. Once your final retainer is ready, it's important to make the switch to it right away. Be sure to keep it clean by brushing it with soft bristles and non-abrasive toothpaste to fight germs and help prevent bad breath.

You'll want to change to your final retainer as soon as it's available from your dentist or orthodontist because of something called bite settling. A study published in the Journal of Natural Science, Biology and Medicine notes that final retainers allow the teeth to settle into place vertically after braces. A temporary device doesn't allow for this settling and can actually negatively affect your results if you use it for too long.

If you have any questions about your retainer, from how long you'll need to wear the temporary one to how often you need to wear your final one, you can always ask your orthodontist. They can provide more detailed instructions that are specific to your mouth and particular case. Ensuring you understand your new retainer's role and how to care for it properly will help you maintain your beautiful smile.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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