Retainers & Emergency Fixes

Why Does My Retainer Feel Tight?

During the first few days of the retainer fitting, you will likely experience some discomfort, but that's perfectly normal.
By myOrthos
November 09, 2022

Orthodontic retainers are medical devices made of plastic or metal and are custom-made to ensure your teeth remain aligned after removing braces or after surgery. A retainer is usually the last phase in any orthodontic procedure and is designed to reinforce the work done in the surgery or by braces. While most retainers are removable, some are fixed-in-place for several weeks after braces are removed.

In most cases, it's normal for a newly fitted retainer to feel tight and cause discomfort in the first few days. However, if discomfort continues after wearing the retainer for several days, you should reach out to your orthodontist for an adjustment. Small adjustments to the retainer’s fitment can make this last phase of your smile journey barely noticeable.

What Makes My Retainer Tight?

Some reasons your retainer might feel tight include: 

  • Not wearing your retainer often enough: Many orthodontic patients can keep their smiles looking great simply by wearing their retainer at night. However, if tightness and discomfort are experienced, it may be a sign you need to wear your retainer more frequently until your smile stabilizes.
  • Adjustments needed: Orthodontic retainers are custom made to fit your smile. However, there are times where small adjustments are needed to help the mold fit just right. You’ll know if you need an adjustment when discomfort persists for more than a few days, or you can feel precises areas of discomfort along your gumline or on the roof of your mouth.

Do Retainers Always Hurt at First?

The retainer helps the teeth settle into their new alignment when braces are removed. However, during the first few days of the retainer fitting, you will likely experience some discomfort, but that's perfectly normal.

If you are asking yourself, "why is my retainer so tight?", think about it the same way you would think about starting a physical training program. As you exercise consistently, the soreness disappears with time. The same is true with retainers. Your retainer can feel uncomfortable as your smile needs some time to adjust. Other causes of retainer discomfort include:

  • A dirty retainer

  • A broken or damaged retainer

  • An improperly fitted retainer

  • Tightness due to lack of use

If you experience prolonged retainer discomfort, consult your orthodontist to address the source of the pain and have it adjusted for better comfort. Our orthodontic partners take pride in caring for their patients and work to ensure every smile journey is as comfortable as it can be.

How Long Should I Expect a Retainer to Hurt?

It is normal for a retainer to cause some discomfort when you first start wearing it. However, the period of discomfort varies between individuals. While some people may feel pain for one to two days, for others, it can persist for a week or more. Typically, the discomfort is expected to last for up to a week.

If the retainer causes discomfort beyond this period, it's best to consult your orthodontist. They will check to ensure everything is functioning properly and make adjustments to help the retainer be more comfortable. Over-the-counter pain medications can help reduce the initial discomfort caused by a retainer, but should be used with caution and not for an extended period of time.

How to Manage Retainer Pain?

Your retainer may cause continued discomfort if you don't adhere to your orthodontist's instructions. Here are a few things you can do to manage the discomfort in the first few days:

Stick to Soft Foods

Choosing the right types of foods may go a long way in ensuring that your retainer doesn't hurt anymore. Our orthodontists often recommend eating easily processed soft and cold foods, such as frozen yogurt, ice cream, smoothies, milkshakes, and chilled soups.

Dental Wax or Bonjela Gel

Dental wax or Bonjela gel can be effective in healing any sore parts in your mouth or gum and cushion them against irritation if your retainer is rubbing. To reduce the retainer discomfort, you can try wrapping any sharp or poking edges of the retainer with dental wax. You can also apply Bonjela gel to sore areas in your mouth, especially your gums. Both of these can be obtained over the counter at most pharmacies.

Ice Packs

Another way to make your retainers more comfortable and reduce pain is using an ice pack. Ice is a good numbing agent and helps to reduce inflammation effectively.

Warm Salt Water Gargle

A simple salt water gargle acts as a natural antiseptic. Our orthodontists advise patients to rinse their mouths with warm salt water at least 2-3 times daily. Doing so reduces inflammation and heals mouth sores that are caused by rubbing.


Well-fitting retainers can feel similar to wearing a tight shoe for the first time. Nonetheless, if the discomfort is impacting your day, consider short term use of an over-the-counter pain reliever. Pain relievers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen reduce the discomfort caused by a new retainer. However, it is important to note that they do not serve as a permanent solution.

Get in Touch With a myOrthos Partner Location Today

Orthodontic treatment can improve your dental health and give you a better smile. Our orthodontic partners are professionals with decades of experience and offer best-in-class orthodontic treatment, caring for their patients through their entire smile journey.

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