Your years of wearing dental braces have finally paid off! Once the braces come off, your teeth will be free. For the first time in years, you’ll be able to run your tongue over your teeth’s smooth surfaces, floss easily and eat whatever you want … but don’t get too comfortable yet, because now it’s time to wear an orthodontic retainer. Before your sigh of relief becomes a sigh of despair, read on — an orthodontic, or dental, retainer is well worth it!
A dental retainer is a custom-made orthodontic appliance used to keep teeth in place after dental braces are removed. Once your braces come off, your teeth need to settle into the jawbone and soft tissue that hold them in place. Made of wire and plastic or rubber, retainers keep your teeth from wandering and wasting thousands of dollars worth of orthodontic work! Teeth can also shift over time, making wearing a retainer even more important.
What’s Your Type?
There are two types of orthodontic retainers: fixed and removable. Removable retainers can be taken off to eat or brush your teeth. They will be worn full time for about a year, and then worn only at night once your orthodontist or dentist gives you the go-ahead. Fixed retainers are permanently glued to your teeth and can only be removed by your dentist. When designing your retainer, you can choose among one of the following:
Hawley Retainers — The most common type of dental retainer, Hawley retainers consist of a plastic base that adheres to the shape of your mouth. This is connected to a wire that wraps around your teeth, keeping them in place.
Essix Retainers — Essix retainers are made of clear plastic and resemble Invisalign® or teeth whitening trays. Some patients prefer Essix retainers because most people can’t tell you’re wearing one, but they don’t have the life span of Hawley retainers.
Bonded Retainers — Often called fixed or permanent retainers, these are cemented to the back of your teeth to keep them in place.
As Seen on TV
You’ve seen those infomercials where one product can be used several ways. Orthodontists don’t need to sell retainers on TV, but they could! While dental retainers preserve the placement of your teeth, they are also used to correct other dental problems: Minor orthodontic problems that don’t require a full set of dental braces may benefit from an orthodontic retainer. Retainers are sometimes used to move just one tooth or correct a slight malocclusion. Other uses also include tongue thrust, TMJ (or TMD) or bruxism correction.
Of course, if you act now, you’ll save money! Using an orthodontic retainer will help prevent crowded and crooked teeth, which can cause other costly dental problems down the line!
Just for Kids
Wearing a retainer is especially important for children and teens whose jaws are still developing. Orthodontists usually recommend wearing a retainer until your jaw stops growing, which is normally in the early 20s. That may seem like a long time, but think of the benefits — the longer you wear your retainer, the better chances you’ll have maintaining a perfect smile!
Like dental braces, today’s orthodontic retainers can be designed to fit your particular style. Kids can choose among many the colors and designs that make wearing their retainers more fun!
Orthodontic Retainer Care Tips
Like any orthodontic appliance, dental retainers are subject to wear and tear and should be cared for appropriately. Follow these dental care tips to enhance the life of your retainer:
- Clean your Hawley retainer daily by brushing it with a toothbrush in warm water. Keep in mind that this isn’t always recommended for an Essix retainer as the toothbrush may damage it.
- Essix retainers can be cleaned with a dentures cleaner or a retainer cleansing product. Occasionally soaking your Hawley retainer in one of these solutions can also help reduce calculus buildup. Be sure to rinse your retainer off before putting it back in your mouth.
- To prevent warping, don’t wash your retainer with hot water or leave it near a heat source.
- Soak your retainer in water when you’re not wearing it to keep it from drying out.
- When visiting your dentist take your retainer in for cleaning too. Your dental hygienist can use ultrasonic cleaning to blast away dental calculus deposits that you can’t remove on your own.
- Keep your retainer in its case when you eat so that you don’t make the mistake of throwing it away.
- If you have a permanent retainer, make sure not to eat anything hard or sticky to prevent breakage.
Wearing braces and retainers gives you something to look forward to — straight teeth and a better bite. Not wearing a retainer will almost guarantee that your teeth will shift. Ask anyone who didn’t wear their retainer following orthodontic dental treatment and they’ll probably say they wish they did. So if you’re about to get your dental braces off, discuss your post-treatment options with your dentist.