Retainers Hurt? (Surviving the Retainer Journey)

Orthodontic treatment often involves appliances like braces and retainers, which may cause discomfort or occasional pain. One common issue is painful retainers. It’s normal to experience some discomfort with retainer use, as they realign your teeth with consistent, gentle pressure.

“There was slight discomfort when I first started wearing retainers, but it eased after a few days. Patience and routine wear is key.” – Anonymous Retainer User

We will now discuss the reasons for retainer-related pain and possible solutions.

We will cover:

  • Understanding why retainers can hurt
  • Tips for relieving retainer pain
  • How to care for your teeth during the retainer journey

How Retainers Work 

Enduring the discomfort of braces can seem like an arduous journey, which often extends from months to years. The last thing you’d want is your teeth reverting to their crooked patterns once the braces come off.

That’s where the retainer comes into play. This petite, custom-made device, crafted from a blend of plastic and metal, is a personal fit for your mouth. It comfortably slips over your upper teeth, resting on the palate, while dutifully maintaining your teeth in their newly achieved alignment.

Normal Sensations with Retainers 

Although a retainer is specially designed to fit the new impressions of your teeth, it won’t be an exact match, and it takes time for your mouth to adjust.

It’s not a secret – retainers can hurt, especially during the initial days. Your mouth is making space for an uninvited guest; it’s bound to protest a bit. But, as the days pass, your mouth and the retainer would gradually become best buddies, cohabiting in peace.  If you have worn braces for a while, you should be used to the experience of this initial discomfort. 

While initial discomfort is an expected part of the journey, persistent pain is not. If the tenderness in your mouth continues for more than a few days, it’s time to consult with your orthodontist. It could be a sign that your retainer needs adjustment or, in rare cases, it could signal a more serious issue. Remember: your health always comes first!

Causes of Retainer Discomfort 

If there is a time gap between removing the braces and fitting the retainer, there’s a strong possibility that teeth have shifted slightly due to the soft gums and changes in pressure. Fitting an optimized retainer to the mouth reconfigures the teeth in their position, causing some pain. 

A retainer might be a type of brace, but it is a very different device from traditional braces and might chafe the gums and cheeks. 

Retainers are fragile devices and if you don’t take proper care of your retainer, there’s a good chance it’ll bend out of shape and cause you a fair amount of pain and discomfort. Always ensure your retainer is kept safe when removing it at night.  

Addressing Retainer Pain 

Retainer pain usually lasts for a few days or a week. You can relieve retainer pain with a number of easy remedies, including painkillers and soft foods.

One surprising method for reducing retainer pain and supporting the natural healing process is to wash your mouth with warm water in the first week of wearing your retainer. If you have any cuts in your mouth because of the new retainer, warm water kills bacteria and supports healing.

Managing Retainer Discomfort 

The best way to manage retainer discomfort is to wear the retainer as your orthodontist prescribes. Taking out the retainer, even for a few days, can cause your teeth to shift and move, generating pain and discomfort in the teeth and gums. 

Some people experience sores and chafing from a new retainer; when this happens, you can use dental wax or Bonjela gel to soothe the area.

Retainers need to be removed before eating; this prevents bacteria buildup on the device that can lead to dental health issues and plaque. If you experience some discomfort from your retainers, consuming soft cold foods in the short term is a good way to avoid aggravating the areas and helping them to heal. Chilled soup and ice cream and good options for retainer pain. 

Can Wearing Retainers At Night Only Reduce The Discomfort?

While wearing retainers only at night may offer relief to some, it’s not an alternative to full-time wear. Continuous nightly use can help realign teeth, especially for minor movements.

Though helpful in reducing discomfort, nighttime wear of retainers doesn’t replace full-time usage during the initial phase. Retainers are a lifetime commitment that requires consistent use to prevent tooth movement. The discomfort experienced after skipping retainers is often due to teeth shifting and not the retainers themselves.

What To Do If The Discomfort Persists?

If the discomfort persists beyond the initial adjustment period, it’s crucial to take action. It could indicate that your retainer is damaged or distorted, possibly due to daily use or certain habits like grinding your teeth. It could also signal that your teeth have shifted somewhat, even if you’ve been diligent about wearing your retainer every night. Remember, any movement of the teeth, however minor, can cause your retainer to not seat all the way or make it uncomfortable to wear.

Fortunately, if the movement that has occurred is minor, sometimes simply wearing your retainer full-time for several weeks can realign the teeth. This is similar to how clear aligners work. Nevertheless, we strongly recommend returning to your orthodontic office if wearing your retainer causes discomfort. There are typically only two explanations when a patient comes to our office with a retainer that hurts: either the retainer is damaged or the teeth have shifted.

Concluding Thoughts

Retainers serve as a crucial final chapter in your orthodontic journey, following the removal of your braces. They may be tailored specifically to the unique characteristics of your mouth, but that doesn’t exempt them from causing a certain degree of discomfort or even pain, particularly during the initial week. Always consult with your orthodontist if you experience any pain.

Keep in mind that your teeth and gums are likely to be hypersensitive and particularly pliable in the aftermath of brace removal. Your teeth could potentially shift if you leave your retainer off for a day or two. Therefore, it’s imperative to wear your retainers consistently and weather through any discomfort for optimal long-term results.