Congratulations on getting your braces removed, and revealing your bright, new beautiful smile! It feels good to finally cross the finish line and receive the smile you’ve worked so hard to achieve over the course of your treatment. But before you and your new smile take on the world, let’s talk about retention and why it’s important to wear your retainers following the removal of your braces.
What is “Retention” and why is it necessary following treatment?
“Retention” is the final stage of any orthodontic treatment. The word means continued possession, use, or control of something. In orthodontics, it refers to the phase of treatment focused on keeping the newly aligned teeth from shifting back to their original orientation. This is a critical phase in treatment, as the newly formed bone surrounding the teeth needs time to stabilize. Orthodontic movement is made possible by applying gentle pressure to the teeth, guiding them into their new placement. Surrounding bone cells react to this pressure and subtract and add new bone in the jaws to support the movement. After the correct alignment is achieved, retainers are used to hold the teeth in place so the surrounding bone can stabilize. Without a retainer, the teeth will likely begin reverting back to their original position shortly after your braces are removed; of course, this also applies to patients who have undergone clear aligner therapy like Invisalign.
What is a retainer?
A retainer is an orthodontic appliance custom made for its wearer to hold the teeth in place during retention. There are two types of retainers: removable and fixed.
- Removable retainers can be taken out and stored when not in use. They include the Hawley retainer, an acrylic-based appliance featuring custom metal wires that firmly hug the teeth, keeping them secured in place. This is the appliance most people imagine when they hear the word “retainer.” Another type of removable retainer is the essix retainer made of a clear, molded medical grade plastic much like Invisalign trays, but thicker.
- Fixed retainers are appliances applied directly to the teeth and are not removable unless removed by an orthodontist; a metal wire is placed behind the bottom front teeth and is bonded (glued) to the lingual surface (facing the tongue) of the teeth.
Both removable and fixed appliances come with their own pros and cons. Removable retainers make your oral hygiene routine a bit easier, as they can be removed when eating, cleaning the appliance, and when brushing and flossing your teeth. However, removable retainers are easier to lose or damage, and patients must remember to wear them as prescribed by their orthodontists. In contrast, fixed retainers are secured to the teeth, working 24/7 to keep the teeth in place. Because patients eat and drink with a fixed retainer, patients must put in more effort to maintain these areas and keep them clean. Individuals who have a hard time complying with regular retainer wear can benefit from this option. Of course, whichever option is right for you depends on your doctor’s recommendation and your lifestyle.
How are retainers made?
Previously, orthodontists would use a putty-like material called alginate to take an impression (or mold) of the mouth. Using the impression, a stone model is poured to replicate the teeth in their new alignment and a lab technician creates the retainer using this stone model. Nowadays, most orthodontic offices use a digital scanner as an alternative to traditional impressions. Digital scanners use a wand to capture photos of your teeth. The scanner then stitches these images together to create a digital 3D model of your mouth. These scans are then transferred to a digital 3D printer, which prints the model of the corrected bite, and retainers are made using these models. The entire process takes a couple of days. Upon delivery, your orthodontist will ensure your new retainer is “fully seated,” meaning it fits firmly and comfortably over all the teeth.
How long do I need to wear a retainer?
In short, retainers are made to be worn for the rest of your life. Despite orthodontic treatment, teeth will naturally shift back to their original orientation if not maintained with a retainer. That’s why it’s critical to follow your orthodontist’s recommendations to ensure long-standing orthodontic success. Each case is different and some patients may be required to wear their retainer longer than others depending on the extent of their treatment. Most patients are instructed to wear their retainers full-time for approximately 3-6 months, then switch to wearing them at night while sleeping.
What if I forget to wear my retainer?
Forgetting to wear your retainer for a few days should not make or break your smile, but failing to wear your retainer for an extended period of time could lead your teeth to shift back into misalignment. Most of the time, retainers can help your teeth shift back in place after a few missed days of wearing it. If your retainer no longer fits, call your orthodontist for guidance. He or she may have you schedule an appointment so they can adjust the retainer to help get you back on track!
How to take care of my retainer
- Always keep your retainers in their designated case when not in use. Do not store your retainers in a paper towel or napkin while eating, which may make them easier to mistakenly throw away.
- Keep the appliance out of reach of pets like dogs who love to chew them up. This will help ensure your retainer does not get lost or damaged.
- To clean your retainers, use a mild antibacterial soap and scrub them with a cotton swab. Avoid scrubbing your retainers with abrasive forces like toothpaste and a toothbrush, which can damage the retainer material. You can also use over the counter cleaning solutions like Steraligner to effectively soak the retainers and kill potential bacteria.
- Do not place your retainers in a hot car. This may warp or damage the retainer’s custom fit to your beautiful, new smile.
As you can see, retainers are the unsung hero of orthodontic treatment and are essential in protecting your investment for the rest of your life! For more information on retainers, or to schedule a complimentary consultation, call our office at (248) 652-1244 and our front office will be happy to assist you.