When it comes to straightening your smile, two separate phases are involved: the active and retention phases. You’re in the active phase of orthodontic treatment when you have braces on or are using clear aligners to move the teeth. The retention phase begins once the braces are off or you’ve used your last aligner. Each phase is an essential part of the orthodontic process!
Here at Saddle Creek Orthodontics, our goal is to create beautifully aligned smiles that last a lifetime. While our expert team is in charge of giving you straighter teeth and a better bite, keeping that new smile in place is your job. Fortunately, it’s a pretty easy one! Retainers are the simplest and most effective way to prevent the teeth from shifting once active treatment is complete. We’re here to tell you everything you have ever wanted to know about retainers!
But what is a retainer, exactly? What does it do? Keep reading to learn more about this important orthodontic tool!
What is a retainer?
A retainer is an orthodontic appliance that’s been molded and custom-designed to fit your mouth perfectly. Once your braces are removed or you complete your last series of aligners, we’ll take an impression of your newly straightened teeth. This will be used to create a personalized retainer for you using a variety of high-quality materials.
Many years of research have shown that wearing some type of retainer part-time indefinitely is the only guaranteed way to keep your teeth in place. The good news is, your retainer will become just another part of your daily routine in no time. Wearing a retainer for a few hours each night or a few days a week is a small price to pay for years of incredible smiles!
New retainers may feel a little strange at first, and they can sometimes affect your speech temporarily. Any initial discomfort should clear up quickly, however, so don’t let it deter you from wearing yours as directed! Sticking to the guidelines Dr. Fagala has given you will allow the retainer to do its job and keep your teeth in the desired positions.
Why is it important to wear a retainer after treatment is complete?
During the active phase of treatment, we use braces or clear aligners to apply pressure to your teeth and gums. This is what begins the process of bone remodeling. During this process, the supporting tissues and ligaments loosen while the cells in the bone break down and allow the teeth to move. Once the pressure of the braces or aligners is removed, the teeth will begin shifting back towards their old positions in the mouth.
That’s where retainers come in! Regular use of a retainer after treatment will hold your teeth in place while the bone, tissues, and ligaments tighten back up, locking your smile into place. This is the only way to ensure your teeth stay in their new positions over time. Failure to wear your retainer as directed by Dr. Fagala can undo all your hard work in less time than you’d think—in the first year after treatment, your teeth can begin shifting back to their old positions in as little as a few days!
What are the different types of retainers?
There are two different types of retainers: fixed and removable. Dr. Fagala will look at your needs, your preferences, and the level of compliance expected before determining which one will be the best fit for your smile.
A fixed retainer usually consists of a thin wire positioned across the interior surface of the lower or upper front teeth. This wire is then bonded into place with glue that is similar to the one used when we attach braces to the teeth. Fixed retainers can be a little more challenging to keep clean, but they often have the best outcome overall! That’s down to their ability to keep newly straightened teeth in a more ideal alignment over a long period of time.
There are a couple of different types of removable retainers. The Hawley retainer has a wire going across the front teeth and is held in place with an acrylic material and clasps. These clasps wrap around the back teeth to keep the retainer in place. Although many orthodontists are moving away from using Hawley retainers, they can still be useful in certain cases.
Essix retainers are removable and look very similar to an Invisalign aligner. These retainers have become popular with both orthodontists and patients in recent years! The trays are made of a transparent plastic material and molded to the unique shape of your mouth. This makes them much less noticeable—and oftentimes more comfortable—than the more traditional wire retainers.
While oral hygiene is easier with a removable retainer, you have the added responsibility of remembering to wear it. You’ll probably need to keep your retainer in all day and night for the first three months or so at the start of the retention phase. At this point, Dr. Fagala will assess your smile again. If no movement is detected with your teeth, you may be able to wear the retainer less often going forward.
Removable retainers are more prone to loss and damage, so you’ll want to be extra careful with them. There may be a charge to replace retainers that have been lost, broken, or otherwise damaged, so be sure to keep them safe and secure when they aren’t in your mouth.
Caring for your retainer
Each type of retainer comes with its own specific instructions for care, but here are some general tips to get you started!
- If you have a fixed retainer, brush and floss in and around it. An interproximal brush can also help eliminate plaque that accumulates around the wire.
- Don’t leave your retainers exposed to extreme temperatures, such as a hot car. This is especially true for Essix retainers. High heat can warp your retainer and affect the overall fit.
- Speaking of Essix retainers, these should always be removed before eating or drinking anything other than plain water. Liquid and food particles can get stuck between the retainer and your teeth, increasing the risk of staining and tooth decay.
- Hawley and Essix retainers can be brushed with a soft-bristled toothbrush and water once or twice a day to prevent plaque from building up on it.
- For the occasional deeper clean, you can soak your retainer in a special cleaning solution or denture cleaner for half an hour or so.
- If you forget to wear your retainer for a while and find that it’s ill-fitting when you try to put it back in, don’t force it! Call us to schedule an appointment and Dr. Fagala will get your smile back on track!
- The same goes for lost or broken retainers. We’ll get a new one to you right away to prevent your teeth from shifting.
Keep your smile in great shape with Saddle Creek Orthodontics
There’s a lot of hard work and dedication that goes into achieving a straighter smile. When you don’t wear your retainer as directed by Dr. Fagala, it can all be undone over time! Following the guidelines for use and taking good care of your retainer will help you enjoy your beautiful new smile for many years to come!
Do you have questions about retainers or the retention phase? Get in touch with our Germantown or Collierville office today and we’ll be happy to walk you through the process. You deserve a lifetime of healthy smiles and we’re here to deliver!