You’ve worked hard to complete your orthodontic treatment successfully, and it’s about to pay off in a big way. The team here at Bowen Family Orthodontics is proud of you for taking such good care of your teeth throughout the process, and we’re almost as excited about your new smile as you are! It’s nearly time to finish the active phase of treatment and reveal the results you’ve put so much effort into, so let’s look ahead to the next phase—retention!
Whether you’re in braces or using Invisalign aligners to straighten your smile, there’s a second step in the treatment process that’s just as important as the first. The retention phase rounds out your orthodontic journey and will give you the best—and longest-lasting—results. Using a retainer regularly will help keep your newly straightened teeth in place for years to come! We’ve put together this overview of what retainers do and why they’re so essential to prepare you for this transition.
What are retainers? How do they work?
Your teeth are stubborn. While we’re able to move them into the desired positions using orthodontic appliances, they’re always trying to shift back to where they used to be. In the first year post-treatment, your teeth are especially susceptible to this and can begin drifting back towards their original positions in as little as a few days if there is nothing there to stop them.
Throughout the orthodontic process, your teeth are consistently supported by braces or clear aligners. Once we remove that support, they’re at an increased risk for relapse, a term we use to describe the way our teeth naturally shift as we get older. It can happen even if you’ve had orthodontic treatment, but fortunately, there’s a simple solution to keep a newly straightened smile in place—retainers!
To understand how retainers work, it helps to know a bit about what happens during treatment. Your teeth aren’t set in your jaw like posts surrounded by concrete; each tooth is held in its socket by elastic ligaments that attach the roots to the bone. These ligaments are living tissue affected by tooth movements, and this attachment allows us to create a more aligned smile. When we put tension on and around your teeth with orthodontic appliances, new ligaments and even bone are formed.
This is referred to as the remodeling phase of treatment. Once it’s complete, the tissues, ligaments, and bone involved in the process will need some time to stabilize. This is your retainer’s time to shine! It can take several months to a few years for the new position of your teeth to become more permanent. Wearing your retainer as directed by Dr. Bowen will help hold them in place as this occurs. Without regular use of a retainer, your teeth will have trouble stabilizing and will almost always revert back to their pretreatment positions at some point.
What are the different types of retainers available?
There are two types of retainers: fixed and removable. When deciding which type is best for your smile, Dr. Bowen will consider your specific needs, your preference, and the overall compliance she expects from you.
Fixed retainers are sometimes referred to as permanent or bonded retainers. They consist of a thin wire that’s bonded behind the bottom and top teeth. Because this bonded wire can hold your teeth in the ideal alignment over a long time, fixed retainers often have excellent and lasting outcomes.
If you have a fixed retainer, you’ll need to brush and floss carefully to ensure it stays clean. Since the wire stretches across several teeth, dental hygiene is similar to what a patient in braces experiences. Tartar can build up around the wire, so you must make sure to follow up with your dental hygienist regularly.
Fixed retainers only keep your front teeth straight and can break without you even knowing it, so we always give you a clear retainer to wear over top.
There are a couple of different options available when it comes to removable retainers. The Hawley and Essix models are both custom-designed to fit your mouth for the best results.
Hawley retainers are one of the oldest types of retainers. They’re made of stainless steel and kept in place by wrapping a wire around your teeth. That wire has been combined with an acrylic arch that rests against the roof of your mouth, and it can be adjusted to continue minor movement of the front teeth if needed. Although many orthodontists are moving away from using Hawley retainers, they can still be helpful in certain cases.
Essix retainers look very similar to the clear aligners used with the Invisalign system. The trays are made of transparent plastic and molded to the unique shape of the patient’s mouth. Essix retainers may cover the entire arch of the teeth or only go from canine to canine. This type of retainer is very subtle and should last as long as you need it, provided you care for it properly.
Cleaning your teeth is more manageable with removable retainers, but you will have to remember to wear them daily. When you aren’t wearing your retainer, be sure to place it in a secure case to keep it safe! They can also be easy to misplace or damage, so you’ll also need to be mindful of where it is at all times and be careful when handling it.
How long do retainers need to be worn once treatment is complete?
The latest research suggests that some type of retainer will need to be worn at least part-time for the rest of your life to achieve the best results. That may sound overwhelming at first, but don’t panic! Wearing your retainer will become part of your daily routine before you know it. After a while, wearing it a few nights each week will likely be all you need to keep your teeth in place.
It can take some time to get used to your new retainer. You may feel minor soreness, and occasionally it can affect your speech, but this is generally temporary and will often resolve on its own. It’s important to wear your retainer as directed by Dr. Bowen, however, even if there is some minor discomfort in the beginning. Failure to do so can undo all your hard work and allow the teeth to shift back to their old positions over time.
Keep your smile where it’s meant to be with Bowen Family Orthodontics
You’re so close to a beautifully aligned smile! Once we remove your braces or you use your last aligner, you can keep your teeth where they belong by wearing your retainer as directed by Dr. Bowen.
Bowen Family Orthodontics is dedicated to meeting all your orthodontic needs through every phase of treatment, including retention. If you’re looking for more information on the role retainers play after orthodontic treatment, get in touch with our expert team! We’ll be happy to answer any questions or concerns you may have.