Importance of Wearing Your Retainer

After wearing braces, you finally have the perfect smile you always wanted. However, it is essential to understand that the removal of braces does not signal the end of your orthodontic treatment. The treatment phase that follows, known as the retention phase, is essential for keeping your new smile in place.

To prevent post-braces movement, the orthodontist will prescribe a retainer, which is a small appliance that fits over your teeth with just enough pressure to hold them. Wearing your retainer as instructed is important. One reason that many people receive orthodontic treatment again as adults is because they did not wear retainers appropriately in the past.

Maintaining New Alignment

While you are wearing braces, the appliance holds your teeth tightly into place and controls their movement. After braces, the gums, bones and muscles must adapt to the change. The teeth need time to anchor into their new positions or they will quickly revert to their former placements. This is called relapse, and without a retainer, all the improvements made to your teeth will undo themself relatively quickly.

During the first three to six months after braces, your orthodontist will probably instruct you to wear your retainer nearly all the time (at least 22 hours a day). Thus, the retainer becomes very similar to clear aligner braces, and if you chose that method, your routine will stay essentially the same. Like the aligners, you will remove your retainer only when cleaning your teeth, eating or drinking.

After the most vulnerable period, your teeth will remain highly susceptible to shifting for at least an additional year. However, during this time, you typically will only need to wear your retainer at night. Because your teeth naturally shift as you age, some type of retainer will remain part of every patient’s life if she wants to avoid any movement. Some experts advise patients to wear their retainer two or three nights a week indefinitely.

Post-Braces Discomfort

Like braces, your retainer might initially cause a sensation of discomfort or pressure, which will resolve as your mouth adjusts to it. Taking over-the-counter pain medication or applying ice to the area should be sufficient to quell the irritation. If it is not, or the problems persist for more than a few days, then you will need to return to the orthodontist so she can assess what is causing the issue. Prolonged discomfort is not normal and should not cause you to feel unable to wear your retainer.

Sometimes, patients who wear retainers with roof plates will lisp for a while because they are not used to having something covering the roof of the mouth. However, as the user gets more accustomed to the appliance, any speech issues will dissipate.

Types of Retainers

There are several types of retainers. Your orthodontist will help you decide which is best for you. The choice will depend on various factors, including how much movement your teeth experienced while in braces and your personal preferences. Retainers usually come in wire or plastic models.

  • Removable Wire Retainers
    Also known as the Hawley Retainer, this appliance is user-friendly for the wearer. Compared to other retainers, it is easier to clean and lasts longer before needing to be replaced. It also allows the teeth to touch in a natural way. Another benefit of this type of retainer is that it is adjustable, so your orthodontist can make minor changes to your alignment after braces.
  • Permanent Wire Retainers
    A permanent, or fixed, retainer is usually worn as a wire running across the back of the upper or lower front teeth, which is bonded with cement similar to that used to apply brackets. This option usually is prescribed to patients who underwent significant orthodontic work. Its benefit is that the patient cannot ignore instructions for wearing it, as it is not removable.
  • Plastic Retainers
    Plastic retainers are made from a clear mold that fits directly over your teeth. Many people like these retainers because they are inconspicuous. However, they are not adjustable and do not allow your teeth to touch naturally.

Caring for Your Retainer

It is essential to take the steps necessary to keep your retainer in good condition. Your mouth is a magnet for bacteria, and wearing a retainer over your teeth can lock and seal the bacteria onto your teeth. Therefore, you need to clean your retainer regularly. If you have a permanent retainer, you will follow the same process to clean it as you did with braces. Store your removable retainer in a plastic case whenever it is not in use. You can brush and rinse removable retainers, but be aware that some types of toothpaste can be abrasive to the retainer and cause scratches that make it harder to keep clean.

You also can soak your retainer as a way to add a little extra clean to it. You can make your own cleaning solution by adding a touch of baking soda to water or using white vinegar and letting it absorb for 10-15 minutes once a week. Never boil a retainer to disinfect it. The high heat will destroy it. Similarly, avoid leaving your retainer in a hot area like on a windowsill or in a car in warm weather.

Do I Need A Retainer If I Wear A Night Guard?

In some cases, retainers can be helpful in alleviated clenching or grinding at night. However, they only are suitable for mild cases, as they lack the necessary thickness to withstand the pressure of heavy clenching or grinding and are easily susceptible to damage. Similarly, a nightguard typically cannot be used in place of a retainer because it lacks the fit and structure to prevent tooth movement. If you need both a retainer and a nightguard, you might need to wear both simultaneously. Your orthodontist can help design a method to make this workable.

Lost Retainer?

Even when you have taken all the necessary precautions, accidents still happen. The important thing is to replace a lost or damaged retainer immediately. Your teeth are hypermobile during the phase after removing your braces, and they will shift out of place quickly. If you wait even a few weeks to replace your retainer, there’s a good chance it will no longer fit.

Retainer No Longer Fits

It is difficult to overstate how quickly teeth will shift early in the retention phase. A common occurrence is for a patient to go on vacation and leave the retainer at home (or experience some other temporary interruption in treatment), only to find it no longer fits after she returns. If it’s only a slight misalignment, you can sometimes get your retainer in place, even if it’s a tight fit. Wearing a retainer that’s only slightly ill-fitting can move your teeth back into their designated positions. However, you can damage your teeth by using too much force, so err on the side of caution. If you are struggling to get the retainer over your teeth, contact your orthodontist to receive a new one.

If you’re ready to start orthodontic treatment, contact us today to schedule a complimentary consult with one of our board-certified orthodontists.


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