You finally got your braces off! But wait, your work here isn’t done. Now you are onto your next phase of treatment – retention. After orthodontic treatment, it is extremely important to wear retainers if you want your smile to last a lifetime.
What is a retainer?
A retainer is a small appliance that fits in your mouth and keeps your teeth from relapsing. Without a retainer, your teeth will move back to how they were before treatment. Lots of people end up back in braces later in life because they didn’t wear retainers as instructed.
Types of Retainers
There are a few different types of retainers. The first is called a Hawley retainer. This retainer has a thin wire across the front teeth and hard plastic on the roof of the mouth. Hawleys are great because they are durable and personalizable. Kids and adults can choose custom colors, patterns, and even glitter to decorate their retainers. They are also adjustable. If it starts to feel loose, you can bring it to your orthodontist and he or she can tighten it.
Another kind of retainer is known as an Essix retainer. This looks much like a clear aligner, but the plastic is harder and tougher. Essix retainers look beautiful because they are very clear and discreet. However, they can be easily misplaced because they are transparent. You will have to be meticulous about not drinking dark beverages with them in, because that can cause staining of the teeth. They generally won’t last as long as a Hawley retainer and will need to be replaced every few years.
A third type of retainer is a bonded retainer. This is a thin wire glued to the back of the front teeth. With a bonded permanent retainer, you won’t need to worry about teeth shifting. Patients must keep the bonded retainer very clean, and use a floss threader or water flosser to floss the area it is bonded to. Some people don’t like the small amount of extra work that goes into keeping it clean, but you may decide that peace of mind is worth it to you.
Retainer Wear & Care
The wear and care instructions for Hawley and Essix retainers are very similar. Generally, your orthodontist will instruct you to wear them full time for a specified amount of time (typically about 2-6 months). This means you will remove them only to eat and brush. After the first few months, you’ll switch to nighttime wear only. It’s recommended that you continue wearing your retainer at night for the rest of your life.
Clean your retainers daily with a toothbrush and a bit of soap and lukewarm water. When not in use, store your retainers in the hard plastic case that your orthodontist provides. Never wrap your retainers in a napkin or place them on a lunch tray. They could be accidentally thrown in the garbage. Don’t put them in your pocket or leave them where a pet could find them. And here in the desert, don’t leave them in the car! The plastic could soften and warp. Orthodontists love to say, “If it’s not in your face, put it in its case!”
Every so often, your orthodontist will want you to come to the office so he or she can check that your retainers are still fitting well. Always bring your retainers to these appointments.
If you choose a bonded permanent retainer, the only special care you need to take is brushing and flossing the area well, and keeping an eye out for any loosened glue or breaks in the wire. If you do notice that anything seems broken or loose, call your orthodontist as soon as possible. He or she can repair it to prevent shifting of the teeth.
Now it’s up to you!
Preserving your perfect new smile is in your hands. Wear your retainers as instructed, keep your retainer check appointments, and call if you have any problems. With the proper retainer wear and care, your smile will last for your whole life!