Retainers – metal-and-acrylic, plastic or stainless-steel oral appliances – are worn for a variety of reasons, the most common of which is to ensure teeth stay in their new position after orthodontic treatment. Wearing retainers as instructed by your orthodontist is crucial to get the full benefit of braces treatment.
The importance of retainers lies in the fact that teeth will tend to revert to their original misaligned position once braces are removed. When your braces come off, new hard and soft tissue forms to secure your teeth. This process can take up to a year, and retainers are necessary to help maintain stability.
Patients usually need to wear a removable or fixed retainer for the same length of time they had their braces. Initially, retainers are typically worn all the time, and later just at night. After about 12 months of wearing your retainers constantly, your orthodontist may advise you to continue wearing them three to five times a week to guarantee your teeth stay in position.
Ligaments and fibers anchor your teeth to your gums. During orthodontic treatment, these structures become loose because of the pressure applied by braces or other oral appliances. Once treatment is completed, teeth can quickly revert to their original position if you do not wear a retainer.
For children and teenagers, realigning teeth can be easier than in adults. The teeth of younger people are more likely to stay in their new position. However, retainers are still essential.
The importance of retainers is even greater among adults who have undergone orthodontic treatment. The adult jaw is much stronger than that of young people, which means more risk of reversion to misalignment of teeth.
What’s it Like Wearing a Retainer?
Your retainer may feel strange at first. You may get pressure on certain teeth or experience general soreness of your mouth. You may also notice an increased saliva flow in the first few days. All this is normal.
With a removable retainer, you may find your speech is affected but you will soon get used to your retainer and your speech will improve. Fixed retainers will not affect how you talk.
There are basically two types of removable retainers:
These adjustable retainers are available in a broad assortment of styles and colors. They allow your teeth to come together in a natural way and, with proper care, will last a long time. They’re also easy to clean. If any parts of your retainer become uncomfortable, your orthodontist can adjust the device to fix the problem. On the downside, they might cause you to lisp initially.
Clear plastic retainers
Similar in appearance to Invisalign aligners, these retainers are less conspicuous than metal-and-acrylic appliances. However, they do not allow your teeth to come together naturally and have a shorter lifespan. It can also be difficult to keep them clean.
You can also get fixed retainers. These are usually made of stainless steel, and they are glued to the back of your teeth. They will not be visible and will retain teeth effectively. But it can be difficult to floss the teeth that are bonded to the retainer, and it may irritate your tongue. A fixed retainer may be beneficial if you have had orthodontic treatment for a wide gap between your upper front teeth.
Fixed retainers require careful brushing – in a vertical direction – and flossing. You will also need to be careful about what you eat. Crunchy, hard or sticky foods can break the retainer.
How to Look After Removable Retainers
Removable retainers should be taken out for contact sports and eating and when you brush your teeth.
Cleaning your retainer is just as important as brushing your teeth. Bacteria, plaque, and tartar can quickly accumulate on your retainer as well as your teeth. You should take your retainer out for cleaning at least once a day. Brush it out with mild liquid soap as soon as you remove it before any debris hardens. Rinse well with tepid water. A denture cleaning solution can help to remove plaque and tartar.
Retainers1 are made from thermoplastic material. Exposing your retainer to high temperatures can bend it out of shape. Keep your retainer away from boiling water and appliances such as microwave ovens, dishwashers, and washers and dryers.
When not in your mouth, retainers should be kept in a proper retainer case. Clean your case daily in warm, soapy water and then rinse it off.
You should continue to practice good oral hygiene while wearing retainers, and see your dentist at least twice a year for a check-up and professional cleaning.
Bear in mind that because retainers should be worn nightly for life, they will need to be replaced periodically.
Meanwhile, take care not to lose your retainer! Keep it in its case in the same place at home when you’re not wearing it. You’re more likely to lose your retainer if you just wrap it in tissue paper and leave it lying around.
Importance of Retainers for Lifelong Benefits
Retainers represent a lifelong commitment. The benefits of your orthodontic care can last indefinitely if you use your retainer properly and realize the importance of your responsibilities as a patient. On the other hand, failing to wear your retainers as instructed can result in the need for further orthodontic treatment.
After wearing braces, it takes time for bone and soft tissues around your teeth to reorganize themselves. Retainers help your bite to stabilize during this process. Keep in mind that the risk of relapse is especially high during the first month after orthodontic treatment.
The importance of retainers becomes greater if your teeth need stronger retention in instances such as:
- Teeth grinding.
- Breathing through your mouth.
- Playing a reed instrument.
- Biting on pens or pencils.
Besides orthodontic aftercare, retainers can also be used to:
- Close a gap between teeth or realign a single tooth.
- Address speech problems.
- Help with issues such as tongue thrust2 and jaw ailments like Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Syndrome3.