Why Retainers Are Important After Orthodontic Treatment

After months or even years of wearing braces, it’s an exciting time when you finally have them removed. With this first phase of treatment completed, you can breathe a little easier and smile a little brighter. You’ve got just a little further to go, however!

No matter which orthodontic method you’ve used to straighten your teeth, there’s a second phase of treatment to round out the process and help maintain your beautiful new smile. Wearing a retainer regularly is an integral part of that process, and if you’re a patient here at Webb Family Orthodontics, you’re sure to hear us mention that many times over the course of your treatment! The truth is, using retainers responsibly is a very important part of maintaining your teeth after your braces come off or you use your last Invisalign aligner.

Our team has put together this helpful guide to why retainers are so important after orthodontic treatment — keep reading to find out more!

What exactly is a retainer?

Colorful Hawley and Essix retainersA retainer is an orthodontic appliance that is molded and designed to fit each individual patient’s mouth. They’re customarily made by taking an impression of your newly straightened teeth and then fabricating the retainer out of wire and an acrylic material. Most orthodontists now recommend that some type of retainer be worn at least part of the time for the rest of your life after the teeth have been straightened.

We know — it sounds completely overwhelming at first! But wearing your retainer can easily become part of your regular routine. After a while, wearing it a few nights each week while you sleep will be all you need to keep your teeth in their desired positions.

It may feel a little weird when you first wear the retainer, and it can sometimes affect your speech temporarily. It’s really important, however, to wear your retainer even if there is some initial discomfort. If you don’t wear it properly, or as often as you should, it won’t be able to do its job. This could mean your teeth shift back into their old positions over time, leaving you back where you started.

Types of retainers

There are two types of retainers: fixed and removable. When deciding which type is best for you, your orthodontist will take into consideration your specific case, your preference, and the overall compliance expected.

Fixed retainers

A fixed retainer usually consists of a thin wire worn across the back of the lower or upper front teeth and bonded into place with a cement similar to the one used on braces brackets. Since this wire stretches across several teeth, dental care is more or less the same as it was when you were in braces, particularly when it comes to flossing. So don’t toss that floss threader just yet, if you’re planning on a fixed retainer! It can be helpful in accessing those interproximal spaces between the teeth to keep them clean.

Even though this type of retainer takes a little more work to keep clean, it does tend to have the best outcome overall simply because the bonded wire holds the newly straightened teeth in perfect formation constantly.

Removable retainers

Smiling girl holding an Essix and Hawley RetainerRemovable retainers are typically a combination of a wire going across the front teeth that is held in place with an acrylic material and hooks, which insert into and around the back teeth to hold the retainer in place. You may hear this referred to as a Hawley retainer. There’s also a type of removable retainer that looks very similar to an Invisalign aligner, and this is often called an Essix retainer.

It may be easier to clean your teeth with these retainers, but you do have to remember to wear it daily. As this second phase of treatment begins, your orthodontist will likely want you to wear it all day and all night for at least three months. If at the end of this period, no movement is detected, then you may be able to wear the retainer only at night or for a few hours during the day.

These retainers are more prone to loss and damage, and you don’t want to leave one lying out near your pets because dogs love to use them for a chew toy! You’ll usually be charged to replace a lost or broken (or slobbered on!) retainer, so make sure you have a safe place for them, and when not in use, keep them stored in a plastic retainer case.

Gum and bone alignment

After orthodontic treatment, your teeth aren’t the only things we need to stay in their new positions. The gums and bones in the mouth will need to align to these new positions, too. The soft and hard tissues that are around the teeth can sometimes take a little longer to align to a different position, but wearing your retainer as directed will help the gums and bones to realign, and the new bite stabilize.

Teeth aren’t fixed in the jaw like posts surrounded by concrete. Each tooth is held in a socket by elastic ligaments that attach the roots to the bone. These ligaments are living tissue affected by tooth movements, and it’s actually their attachment that allows for the small movements of the teeth during treatment.  When tension is placed in and around the teeth via braces or Invisalign, new ligaments and even bone are formed.

Once this remodeling phase has been completed, the tissues, ligaments, and bone need time to stabilize. Without the retainer to help hold these new positions as they stabilize,  the teeth will almost always revert back to their old positions. It can take several months or even up to a few years for the new position of the teeth to become permanent.

Continuing care in Chattanooga with Webb Family Orthodontics

Whether you’re only contemplating life without braces or just need a refresher on the importance of retainers, Webb Family Orthodontics is here to help. With an expert orthodontist and skilled staff committed to meeting your orthodontic needs through all phases of treatment, you can be certain you’re receiving the best care available in Hixson and Soddy-Daisy. If you’re looking for more information on the role retainers play after orthodontic treatment, get in touch with us today and we’ll be happy to answer any questions or concerns you may have.

Webb Family Orthodontics will keep your teeth in place and put a smile on your face!