When to replace a dental appliance


Night guards and retainers aren't diamonds, they don't last forever - especially if you use them regularly! At our office, we make hard and soft night guards to protect you from grinding down your teeth. We also make retainers to protect teeth from shifting after orthodontic/braces treatment. But after getting your first one custom made, when is it time to get a new one? Well it actually depends on a few different factors which we'll cover in this blog post.


1| If your appliance is broken or worn down, we would recommend a replacement. Retainers can crack and they can break. Night guards can also break and because the wearer is a grinder and/or jaw-clencher, these can also noticeably wear away over time. We have even had someone come in - their dog had used the owner's night guard as a chew toy! And YES, we recommended a replacement!


You can always bring your appliance with you when you come in for a routine check-up and our clinical team can make recommendations on whether or not you need a replacement after they have a look.


There is obviously no set timeline as to when your night guard or retainer will break/wear away - because everyone differs in how much they grind/clench and people even differ in how well they take care of their appliance (so always use the case you are provided with to store your night guard/retain when it's not in your mouth)!


2| If you lose your retainer or night guard, get a new one. Your device was prescribed to you either for protection (night guard) or to prevent your teeth from shifting (retainer), so if you stop wearing them, you could be damaging your teeth from grinding or your teeth could start shifting!


One of the common stories we've heard from patients is - they were out eating at a restaurant and they put their retainer in a napkin...And when the table was cleared, the napkin was tossed along with their retainer. Good news is, with the pandemic, we haven't been hearing these stories recently, but we suppose once things get back to normal, this would be something to watch out for.


After Invisalign® treatment, the recommendation they offer is to wear the retainer 24 hours (minus eating time) for one year (so, not so different from wearing the aligner trays) - this is a time when your teeth are still fairly mobile, so it's a really, really good idea to get a replacement pair asap if you lose them.


While night guards seem to get lost less frequently compared to retainers - because most people usually keep them at home and put them on before bed, we have had instance where people would pack them up for travel and somewhere along the way, it'd get lost. Hey, it happens! So don't be afraid to ask us for a new guard if this happens!


3| If your appliance has discoloured, it's a good time to ask your doctor if you can get a replacement. We change our our toothbrushes every 3 months or so because it not only wears out but it also collects bacteria and other germs. Well, the same can be said about your retainer and your night guard - after all, it's in your mouth for a longer period of time than your toothbrush and we keep night guards and retainers around longer than 3 months.


So if your appliance is looking more yellow than clear, it might be time to get a new one made.


4| Ask your dentist how often you, personally, should be swapping out an old appliance for a new one. If you're an extensive grinder, they might recommend a more frequent replacement than someone who only wears their guard when they grind due to stress during the daytime.


If you wear a retainer 24-hours (except eating), you will need a replacement faster than if someone was only wearing it at night time.


In any case, because we all have different habits, it doesn't hurt to ask your dentist whether you should get a new retainer every 6 months, every year, every 2 years, etc., or a new night guard every year, every 3 years, or even every 5 years.


Similar to jeans, the more you wear them, the more comfortable they become - BUT, in the case of something like a retainer, wearing an old retainer could result in your teeth moving a bit, along with the distortion of the existing appliance. When you get a new retainer, it may feel really really tight for the first couple of days - this is good because it means the new retainer is shifting your teeth back to what they were right after you had your braces removed. So it is a good idea to have them replaced every now and then - even if they're not broken!


5| If your current appliance no longer fits properly, in some cases, it can be adjusted to fit but in other cases, a new one might need to be made.


This could be the case if you get a new restoration (for example new dental crowns) - and it could affect both the way a night guard fits as well as the way a retainer fits.


And, as mentioned before, your teeth can move after you've had orthodontic treatment (which is why we recommend wearing a retainer in the first place)! In some cases, a person might misplace their retainer, and think it's no big deal to get a new one. After a few months, let's say they find it again - but when they try it on, uh oh - it doesn't fit. This could mean that the teeth have shifted - it might not look noticeable, but if you can't get the appliance on, then something has happened.


In this situation, your teeth might still be fairly mobile, so it's a good idea to get the dentist to do a new scan and to make a retainer from your existing alignment, so you can stop it from becoming more crooked. If, let's say more time went by before they found their old retainer and teeth have shifted noticeably, then they could do another round of orthodontics to realign the teeth and then get a new retainer. This is obviously much more time consuming and costlier than wearing a retainer religiously, so let us be clear: it's a really, really good idea to use your retainer after orthodontic treatment!


6| Insurance companies vary in their coverage and sometimes the decision on how often you're replacing a night guard will depend on this. Many companies will agree to cover at least every 5 years, but some will cover a protective appliance even more frequently than that - and as always, this is subject to the plan maximum. If you are looking to replace your current night guard and are concerned about how much your dental plan covers, we can help you to submit an estimate if you are an existing patient.


With respect to retainers, it is related to orthodontic treatment - and the great news is that we are seeing more and more insurance companies cover adult braces (which is different from a few years ago, when only dependants under 18 could be covered for this service). In many cases, there is a lifetime orthodontic maximum that is often already reached from the orthodontic treatment itself - and thus, patients are usually responsible to cover the remaining balance, as well as the cost of any subsequent retainers.


We have had a few instances where a person completed orthodontic treatment under one plan (for example, as a child under their parents' plan), then grew up, got their own job and was able to claim ortho retention costs to their new plan. But dental plans vary depending on the agreement of the insured and the employer providing the coverage, so don't hesitate to ask us to send an estimate on your behalf. It won't affect your coverage if it's just sending an estimate, and you'll have a better idea of what you'll be reimbursed if you go through with the recommendations.

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