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Why Do My Retainers Hurt: Reasons and How To Tackle The Pain

25 November 2022

Lady holding on to her jaw in pain

Retainers are orthodontic devices designed to hold your teeth in place after orthodontic treatment such as braces or Invisalign. They play a crucial role in helping you maintain your desired smile.

Though these devices are customized to each person’s teeth, a question often posed to dentists is – why do my retainers hurt when I wear them?

If you share this same experience, read our article for some reasons why wearing your retainers may hurt, the difference between discomfort and pain and how to tackle the pain. We also share answers to your frequently asked questions below.

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Infographic - Why do my retainers hurt

Discomfort resulting from retainers is normal. You may experience tightness and slight pain, and this typically occurs when retainers are first worn after orthodontic treatment. This discomfort may last several days to a week.

On the other hand, pain caused by wearing retainers is more intense and persistent. It can interfere with your daily activities and the sensation often lasts more than a week. In such situations, it’s recommended to visit your dentist for a detailed consultation.

These are some reasons why your retainers may hurt when you wear them:

Adjustment Period

When you first wear or fix your retainers after completing braces or Invisalign treatment, it may take some time for your teeth and mouth to adjust to this new device.

During this adjustment period, you may experience some discomfort, pressure and even slight pain as the retainers work to keep your teeth in place. You may also experience abrasions caused by the retainers rubbing against your lips, tongue and cheek.

Once you’ve adjusted to this new orthodontic device, these discomforts and abrasions are likely to go away.

Your Teeth Have Shifted

When prescribing removable retainers, your dentist will advise you on the recommended duration of full-time wear. After that duration, you’ll be required to wear them while sleeping for the rest of your life.

Failure to wear the device according to your dentist’s instructions may result in your teeth shifting back to their original position. When this happens, your removable retainers may no longer fit correctly and you may experience pain when wearing them.

Your Retainers are Broken or Damaged

If you feel a sharp pain in your mouth when wearing your retainers, it could be a sign of a broken or damaged part. A rough edge, broken wire or small piece of plastic or metal can prick or cause abrasions on your gum, lip or tongue.

Additionally, high heat can cause metal wires to bend and plastic retainers to become distorted. When this happens, you may experience pain as the retainers are no longer aligned with your teeth.

Your Retainers No Longer Fit

Over time, frequent wear can cause your retainers to become loose. When they don’t fit your teeth and mouth well, they can cause pain and irritation.

Your Retainers are not Inserted or Removed Correctly

Hawley retainers are a type of removable device involving metal wires. When these retainers aren’t inserted or removed properly, the wires may bend and place excessive pressure on your teeth, causing pain.

Here are some methods to help you tackle the pain resulting from wearing retainers:

1. Soft and/or Cold Foods

Did you know that soft and/or cold foods can help ease the pain in your mouth? The next time you experience pain or discomfort, try eating soft foods like ice cream or oats!

Note: You might want to avoid hard, crunchy or overly chewy food right after completing orthodontic treatment as they can cause your teeth to shift. Plus, they can cause even more soreness!

2. Cold Compress

If you aren’t a fan of cold foods, a cold, wet cloth or an ice pack can be used to soothe the affected area.

3. Dental Wax or Numbing Gel

A particular part of your removable retainers may be causing abrasions in your mouth. In such cases, applying some dental wax or numbing gel may help to reduce the pain, irritation or discomfort.

4. Over-the-counter Medication

Over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help to alleviate any discomfort or pain that you may be experiencing.

However, before consuming any medication, it’s important to take into account any allergies and medications you’re taking (as there may be an adverse reaction when consumed together).

If you’re unsure whether the medication is suitable for you, it’s a good idea to consult a doctor first.

5. Saltwater Gargle

Gargling saltwater in your mouth 2 to 3 times daily can reduce gum inflammation caused by your retainers. This can in turn reduce the pain.

Additionally, saltwater can disinfect the gums, preventing infections from occurring.


Your retainers are customized to fit the shape of your mouth and teeth. If you find them too tight or too loose, it may be a sign that they no longer fit.

Slight pain or discomfort caused by wearing your retainers is normal as they work to prevent your teeth from shifting. If you experience these sensations, you’re advised to continue wearing them.

However, if your gums are swollen or you experience sharp, persistent pain from wearing your retainers, you’re recommended to stop wearing them and visit your dentist as soon as possible.

If your teeth have experienced a minor shift, wearing your retainers full-time for a couple of weeks may possibly move them back to their desired position. However, if the relapse is too severe, you may need a new set of retainers or additional treatment.

Your dentist can advise you on the best course of action depending on your condition.

  • Avoid heat

It’s advisable to keep your retainers away from heat as it can cause the plastic to warp and become distorted. This includes dishwashers, microwaves and boiling water. It’s also recommended to keep your retainers away from direct sunlight!

  • Store your retainers properly

When you aren’t wearing your retainers, it’s important to keep them in their case to prevent them from accidental damage.

  • Keep your retainers clean

A good practice is to clean your retainers immediately each time you remove them. This prevents any debris from hardening and adhering to the surface.

To clean your retainers, rinse them with lukewarm water and gently brush them with a soft-bristled toothbrush. Alternatively, use a cleaner tablet like Polident or Brite.

Keeping your retainers clean helps with maintaining your dental hygiene and extending the life of the device.

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