Can Your Retainer Cause Gum Recession? Let’s Find Out!

Gum recession is a concern for many braces patients, and for good reason: it can weaken teeth, lead to increased sensitivity, and a higher risk of prematurely losing that tooth. You may have recently started wearing a retainer and wondered: can your retainer be the cause of your gum recession?

The answer is yes, retainers can cause gum issues, but only under certain circumstances. If your retainer is not properly fitted, it can put excessive pressure on your gum tissue and cause it to recede.

It’s your orthodontist’s job to check the fit of your retainer before you go home, and it’s your responsibility to reach out if you notice that something is not right. So let’s go over the most popular types of retainers and see how they can cause issues.

Can Removable Retainers Cause Gum Recession?

Retainers are an important part of your post-braces journey. You’ve already been warned that you’ll need to wear them for a long time, but what happens if they don’t fit like they should? In this section, we’ll explore how removable retainers can cause gum recession and discuss some potential reasons why this happens.

Gum recession is caused by two things: mechanical trauma and bacterial infection. Mechanical trauma causes gums to recede by repeatedly putting pressure or friction on the tissue. Removable retainers can do this in a similar way that mouth piercings can cause gum recession in the bottom teeth.

Essix retainers can cause gum recession if they press on your gums, meaning that they’re too tight on don’t have sufficient clearance away from your gums. The second reason may be that they don’t fit right, leading to a back-and-forth movement of your teeth that weakens them and results in recession.

Similarly, Hawley retainers can also contribute to gum recession if their metal or acrylic components dig into your gums, causing them to recede. Poor-fitting Hawley retainers can also force teeth into unnatural positions and increase the chance of gum recession.

Properly adapted Essix retainers

Gum Turning White Under Retainer

If you notice your gums turning white under your retainer, this may be a sign that the retainer is pressing too hard on your gums, cutting off the blood flow and causing them to turn white. This could be an indication of a poor fit and should be addressed as soon as possible by your orthodontist.

Typically, orthodontic labs will trim Essix retainers at gum level, meaning they should barely extend over your gums. If you receive a retainer that is covering your gums extensively, it hasn’t been properly trimmed, and you should request a new one.

Some patients simply have puffy gums after having their braces removed, which can cause a bit of whitening. If the gum turns white but then quickly goes back to its natural pink color, you shouldn’t worry too much. However, if it stays white, it’s best to notify your orthodontist to avoid more serious issues like tissue ischemia, which happens when the gum is no longer nourished by the blood flow.

Hawley retainers

Retainer Digging into Gum

In some cases, a retainer may dig into your gum. This can frequently happen with Hawley metal components: clasps and loops that can become loose or ill-fitting, pressing on the gums and roof of the mouth as a result.

The acrylic part of a Hawley retainer sits in intimate contact with the gums on the back of your teeth. Should the gums become inflamed, it’s easy to feel like your retainer is digging into the gum tissue.

Whatever is causing your gums to swell and interfere with your retainer, you can try a saltwater rinse to relieve the inflammation and some of the pain. Mix one cup of warm water and a teaspoon of salt, and swish it around your mouth for about 30 seconds before spitting it out.

In the meantime, go to your orthodontist for a checkup. They will be able to adjust your retainer if it’s a Hawley appliance or order new Essix retainers. Try not to go too long without wearing your retainers, despite the discomfort, or they may no longer fit in a week or two.

Can Permanent Retainers Cause Gum Recession?

Permanent retainers can unfortunately cause gum recession, among other issues. There are two reasons why this happens:

  1. unwanted movement caused by a retainer that isn’t passive
  2. plaque accumulation caused by difficult access when cleaning your teeth

I’ve stated before on this blog that I’m not a big fan of permanent retainers, and that they are by no means “permanent.” Yes, they can be useful, but because they cause so much trouble I tend to avoid them at all costs. Let me expand on how they can damage your gums long-term:

Fixed Retainers and Tooth Movement

Permanent or fixed retainers often apply residual forces to your teeth. This force is called “torque,” and it causes the tooth’s root to move, sometimes outside of the bone. When the root doesn’t have enough bone to cover it, the gum will recede as well, because the gum needs bone for support.

It’s essential for your orthodontist to make permanent retainers passive. If the teeth sit in a stable position, this will help reduce the chance of gum recession.

However, if there’s a constant twisting force on the roots of certain teeth (especially canines), in time, they will sit outside the bone, and the gum will recede significantly. Here’s an example of an extreme case of gum recession caused by fixed retainers.

Broken retainers often go unchecked and can wreak havoc on your tooth alignment and gum health, as the teeth start moving in unnatural positions. In conclusion, fixed retainers can indirectly cause gums to recede by influencing the teeth’s positions.

Fixed Retainers and Plaque Accumulation

Another reason your permanent retainer could cause gum recession is plaque accumulation. Even with the best of efforts, most patients can’t clean properly behind and underneath their permanent retainers. This inevitably leads to plaque buildup and tartar accumulation.

Tartar accumulation is the number one cause for gum recession, especially in the bottom teeth. It populates the gum tissue with all sorts of harmful bacteria, as well as constantly builds up and presses the gum tissue down.

To prevent gum recession related to permanent retainers, it’s crucial to maintain good oral hygiene practices and regularly visit your dental hygienist more often than you normally would.

Will the Gums Grow Back?

Unfortunately, receding gums rarely grow back on their own, unless it’s just a small amount. However, the good news is that you can take steps to prevent further gum recession and even opt for certain treatments to restore gum tissue.

When it comes to treating receding gums, the solution might vary depending on the severity of the condition. One option is periodontal surgery, which can help restore gum attachment to the teeth. This treatment is usually performed by a periodontist, who specializes in gum-related issues.

In some cases, your periodontist may recommend a gum graft, especially if the recession is severe. This procedure involves taking a small piece of healthy gum tissue, usually from the roof of your mouth, and attaching it to the area of recession. Grafted gum tissue eventually heals and integrates with the existing gums, providing improved coverage and protection to the tooth.

Tooth mobility can also be a concern when dealing with gum recession. As the gums recede, the tooth’s support structure may weaken, increasing the risk of tooth loss. Treating the underlying causes of gum recession, such as periodontal disease or trauma, is crucial to reduce tooth mobility and helping to preserve your natural teeth.


Hopefully, this article has helped you identify any issues you might have with your retainer. To keep your oral health in check and prevent gum recession when wearing retainers, remember to:

  • Regularly visit your orthodontist to make sure your retainers fit as they should
  • Remove and clean your retainers daily, and thoroughly clean around your fixed retainers
  • Avoid aggressive tooth brushing, as this can cause further damage to your gums
  • Wear your retainers as instructed and don’t skip days

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