How Long Do You Need to Wear Braces?

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If a dentist says you need braces, it's natural to wonder this: For how long? The answer, though, is as individual as you are. 

Three main factors will help your orthodontist estimate how long it will take to create the perfect alignment of a winning smile:

  • Your age. Children may see results faster than adults.

  • The amount of correction you need. The more shifting needed, the longer it's likely to take.

  • The type of braces you choose or need. Severe problems often require using traditional braces and may take longer to get the results you want.

What to Expect

Your orthodontist will examine your mouth, take X-rays, and make plaster models of your teeth. This helps the orthodontist estimate how long you'll need to wear braces. It's not possible to predict an exact timeline. But, here are general guidelines:

  • Most people need to wear fixed braces for 18 to 24 months.

  • For hard-to-correct problems, treatment may take up to three years.

  • If you have a less severe problem or can use clear aligners, treatment might take 6 to 18 months.

How to Make the Process Go More Smoothly

To keep from having to wear your braces longer than expected, take these steps to get the best results:

  • If you wear aligners, take them out only as directed. That's mainly when you eat, brush your teeth, and floss. Don't skip a day unless your orthodontist says to.

  • If you have rubber bands attached to the braces or you wear a nighttime headgear, make sure you follow directions carefully. Don't skip these extras. They're important to keep the process on track.

  • If you play contact sports, ask your orthodontist to fit you with a protective mouth guard. This will help protect your teeth and your braces.

  • Avoid foods that can damage your braces. Hard and sticky foods can break or displace the braces or the wires that connect the brackets.

  • Keep your teeth clean and healthy. Ask your orthodontist how to care for your teeth and braces to avoid oral health problems.

"Retaining" Results

A retainer is an important addition to your orthodontic care. It goes on after your braces come off. No matter what age you are, a retainer gives your gums and jaws time to get used to the new position of your teeth. It also helps keep them in their new place, which prevents other dental problems down the road. For instance, straight teeth are much easier to clean, which prevents cavities and gum disease. Likewise, a correct bite relieves stress on bone and gum tissue. 

Retainers come in a variety of designs. The most common is a small plastic plate that holds your teeth in place with a thin piece of wire. Other retainers look similar to clear aligners that fit over your teeth. Retainers can be removable or fixed in place. You might need an upper, a lower, or a pair of retainers. 

You're likely to wear retainers full-time for the first six months. If yours are removable, you'll probably take them out only to eat and to brush and floss your teeth. Your orthodontist will let you know when you can switch to wearing the retainer only at night. 

Teeth naturally move as you age. The best way to keep your teeth straight over your lifetime is to continue using your retainers at night, possibly indefinitely. This helps you avoid dental issues like Make sure to clean your retainers and keep them in their protective case when not in your mouth.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Mar 31
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  1. American Association of Orthodontists. My Life My Smile.  http://www.braces.org/

  2. National Health Service. Orthodontics -- How it is performed. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Orthodontics/Pages/Howitisperformed.aspx

  3. American Association of Orthodontists. All About Orthodontics. http://www.braces.org/mylifemysmile/brochures/All_About_Orthodontics.pdf

  4. Orthodontics and Clear Aligners. American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. http://www.aacd.com/index.php?module=cms&page=571

  5. Keeping your smile beautiful/Questions and answers. American Association of Orthodontists. https://www.aaoinfo.org/system/files/media/documents/Keeping_Smile_Beautiful-MLMS-l.pdf