Retainers – all your questions answered!

Orthodontic Retainers, why are they needed and what are they? Are there different styles or types? Which one will I have to use? Can I pick? All these questions are retainer faqs! For every one that completes orthodontic treatment, whether it be with traditional braces or Invisalign, retainers must be used. Your teeth have small fibers in them that want to pull your teeth back to the original location that they were in….in a nutshell, your teeth have memory! How much will they move back? Well, that is different for everyone. Just like your bite was a unique bite to start with, the amount of relapse, or movement, will vary as well. Some people are lucky, they only have a slight amount of shifting. Others are not so lucky and they see a significant amount of shifting.

Many parents and adults frequently ask, “Why are retainers needed?”. If you think about it, there isn’t one part of your body that hasn’t changed in the last 30 or 40 years….that includes your teeth. Our bodies are always in a state of change and teeth aren’t any different. Your teeth are not set in concrete, nor do we want them to be. Teeth move slightly when we chew or bite something hard. If they didn’t then all the forces that are transmitted to our teeth as we bite down would cause them to break. So for people that grind and clench their teeth, the fact that the teeth can move slightly actually protects their teeth from fracturing.

Frequently, I see people in their 30′s or 40′s come in to have orthodontic treatment for a second time because they discontinued wearing their retainers and the teeth shifted back to how they had been before the treatment. Most of the time crowding is present and the teeth need to be re-aligned.

For most of our patients including children, teens, and adults, we make removable plastic retainers. This is either a traditional retainer that has the wire that goes across the front teeth or a clear plastic retainer that is form-fitted to the teeth made from a mold of the patient’s teeth after they get their braces removed. Both types have their benefits. The nice aspect of a traditional retainer is that I can move teeth with it, if necessary. If a tooth moves, I can put a bend in the wire and move it back. However, in most cases, I still prefer having a clear retainer. It’s clear! I find that teenagers, especially, like this type of retainer because others don’t see it and compliance with retainer wear is much better. They feel like they are not wearing it because it is not visible to people, and so can make them more comfortable with wearing them in public. We can still move a tooth if it shifts with this type of a retainer, but the movements are more limited and minor.

There are instances when a fixed, or bonded, type of retainer is beneficial. For example, when we have a patient that had a very large gap between their upper front teeth or a patient that had severe crowding in the bottom teeth before treatment, we usually apply this retainer type. In addition to the removable clear retainer, we may also place a bonded retainer on the back of the teeth to prevent the gap between the two front teeth from reopening or the bottom teeth from shifting.

Lastly, my patient and/or their parents will always ask, “How long do I have to wear my retainers?”. The answer is simple “For as long as you want your teeth to stay straight?” Yes, retainers must be worn forever!!!! That doesn’t mean you have to wear them all the time forever. Remember, when we straighten your teeth we treat your malocclusion (bad bite), but we don’t cure it! So retainers must be worn to keep the teeth aligned properly. I recommend that my patients wear their retainers full-time wear (take them out to eat, brush, and sports) for a few weeks. Then I recommend about 12 hours per day (after dinner and sleeping hours) for the next 6-9 months. Then, for the next few years, every night while sleeping only. Once your braces have been off for a few years, then you should be placing your retainers in about one to two nights per week just to keep the teeth straight.

Cleaning your retainers is simple. Place them in a glass with a denture-cleaning tablet or powder for however long the product says it takes to clean. You can purchase denture cleaning tablets or powder at your local pharmacy. Additional cleaning can be done by gently brushing the inside and outside of your retainers with your toothbrush and some toothpaste. When you do this method of cleaning, be gentle! You do not want to break your retainers, because you will have to get new ones. You can also bring them to your dentist or orthodontist to have them deep clean your retainers.

You will either receive a retainer case with your retainers from your orthodontist, or you can purchase one online or at a store that carries them. Store them in the container when you are traveling with your retainers to prevent breaking or damage.

If you have had orthodontic treatment with us at Bordentown Braces or Cream Ridge Orthodontics, make sure you continue with your retainer wear as we instructed you. In the end, it is up to you to keep the way your teeth look after the braces treatment. We cannot force you to wear your removable retainer, but if you have gone through the braces, this is the easiest part of maintaining your straight smile! If you ever have any questions about the fit of your retainers or need your retainers checked, please do not hesitate to call us. If you have had orthodontic treatment in the past and experienced some shifting due to discontinued retainer wear, call us to schedule an appointment with our orthodontist in Upper Freehold NJ, so we can give you some options on how to realign your teeth and keep them straight!