Why does my retainer hurt when I wear it at night?

- January 1, 2024

The day you get you braces/clears aligners off is the most exciting day of orthodontic treatment for us and our patients and their families. Your teeth look and feel amazing. Getting straight teeth, however, is only half the battle. The other half is keeping them that way. On the day the treatment ends, we tell our patients that they must wear their retainers every night for the rest of their lives, or their teeth will move. Although new retainers may feel “snug,” they should snap into place cleanly and not cause any pain. We check every retainer for comfort on the first day and remake any if they are not right.

The only way to keep your teeth straight is wearing your retainer every night while sleeping. From decades of clinical research, we have learned that no matter how we straighten the teeth, they tend to move after treatment has ended. The only way to preserve the results is by wearing retainers… FOREVER! Although our patients acknowledge this on removal day, forever is a long time and for a variety of reasons, many discontinue wear at some point. If you retainer hurts, it usually means that your teeth have moved or somehow your retainer got distorted due to an incident with it or a change in temperature.

There can be several reasons why your retainer may be causing discomfort or pain. Here are a few possible explanations:

  1. Adjustment period: If you have recently started wearing a new retainer or have had adjustments made to your existing retainer, it is common to experience some discomfort during the initial adjustment period. Your teeth and gums need time to adapt to the pressure and positioning of the retainer.
  2. Poor fit: If your retainer does not fit properly, it can cause discomfort or pain. This could be due to changes in your teeth alignment or if the retainer itself is damaged or worn out. In such cases, it is important to consult with your orthodontist to have the retainer adjusted or replaced. When a patient returns to our office with a retainer that hurts when they wear it, there are only two possible explanations. Either the retainer has changed, or the teeth have moved. Generally, it is simple to determine which has occurred. In some cases, retainers are damaged, distorted, or “wear out” with daily use. In most cases, however, the retainer is fine, but the teeth have shifted.
  3. Bruxism or teeth grinding: If you have a habit of grinding or clenching your teeth, it can put excessive pressure on your retainer, leading to discomfort. Your dental professional may recommend additional measures, such as a nightguard, to protect your retainer and alleviate the pain.
  4. Allergic reaction: In rare cases, some individuals may have an allergic reaction to the materials used in their retainer. If you experience persistent discomfort or irritation, it is important to consult with your dental professional to determine if an allergic reaction is the cause.

What can I do if my teeth have moved due to poor retainer compliance?

If the movement that has occurred is minor, sometimes merely wearing your retainer full-time for several weeks will realign the teeth (similar to how clear aligners work). If the relapse is too much for your retainer to correct, you will probably need a new one. Even desirable settling can make your retainer uncomfortable or not seat all the way. In these cases, you will also need a new retainer, even if you’re happy with the way the teeth look and feel. If your teeth have shifted so much that you are not satisfied with their appearance, you may need an orthodontic “tune-up” (additional treatment) to realign them We can help you decide what is best for you.

It is recommended to reach out to us to discuss the specific issues you are experiencing with your retainer. We will be able to evaluate the situation and provide appropriate guidance or adjustments to alleviate the discomfort.