You’ve spent a long time working towards a straighter smile, and now you’re finally ready to reap the rewards! Everyone here at Central Mass Orthodontics is proud of your patience and dedication, and we’re almost as excited as you are to see the beautiful results at last. Completing the active stage of treatment is certainly something to celebrate, but there’s still a second phase to come, and that’s what we’re going to talk about today!
The retention phase is what rounds out the whole treatment process once your braces have been removed or you’ve used your last aligner, and it’s every bit as important as the active phase. Dr. Giarrusso or Dr. Livanos will walk you through everything you need to know about wearing and caring for your customized retainer when the time comes. In the meantime, let’s take a closer look at what retainers are and how they work to prepare you for this important transition! Keep reading below to learn why retainers are the key to long-lasting results.
What do retainers do? Why are they so important to your final results?
In the simplest terms, a retainer is an orthodontic appliance that’s used to keep newly straightened teeth in place once the active phase of treatment is complete. In the first stage, we use braces or clear aligners to apply gentle pressure to your teeth to move them into better positions. However, once that pressure is removed, the teeth will begin shifting back to their previous places in the mouth. That’s where retainers come in! When worn as directed, a retainer will hold the teeth in place for many years to come.
So what makes retention so important? Our teeth are stubborn and aren’t easy to move from their original positions. In fact, this movement requires an enormous amount of pressure! That’s what happens during the active phase of treatment as the gums grow around the teeth in support. We can’t keep that kind of pressure on your teeth forever, though. We’ll relieve it at the appropriate time by removing your braces or giving you your last set of aligners.
Once that constant pressure is relieved, your mouth will need an unspecified amount of time to grow enough support to keep the teeth in their new places. That means we need to apply more pressure, but much less than when we straightened your teeth in the first place. Without this additional pressure from retainers, your teeth will begin to drift back to their original positions.
The pressure that orthodontic appliances put on your teeth means they can’t adjust and heal in place during treatment. Removing that level of pressure allows them to heal fully, while retainers make sure the teeth are where they need to be for that process to happen. Regular retainer use also allows your teeth to settle in their new positions permanently.
How long will retainers need to be worn?
Generally speaking, most retainers will need to be worn continuously for a certain number of hours to keep the teeth in place. We’ll often recommend wearing your retainer overnight since you’re likely to be sleeping for several hours at a time, anyway. In some cases, we may recommend daytime retainer use as well. Current orthodontic wisdom tells us that most patients will need to wear some type of retainer indefinitely for the best results, but don’t let that worry you—your retainer will become part of your daily routine in no time.
What are the different types of retainers available?
Thanks to modern orthodontic technology, we’re able to offer patients a variety of fixed orthodontic appliances (like braces) and removable orthodontic appliances (like Invisalign clear aligners.) We have that same flexibility when it comes to retainers! Here’s a look at the different types of retainers we have available.
Fixed retainers generally consist of a thin wire bonded behind the bottom or top teeth, or sometimes both. These can be a beneficial option for patients who have (or have had) a large space between the two upper front teeth. Once treatment is complete and the space is completely closed, a fixed retainer can keep it that way.
Since the wire stretches across several teeth, dental hygiene is similar to that of a braces patient. If you have a fixed retainer, you’ll need to be especially careful with brushing and flossing to ensure it stays clean. Because the bonded wire holds your newly straightened teeth in the ideal alignment over a long time, fixed retainers often have excellent outcomes. You never have to remember to wear them, either!
When it comes to removable retainers, there are a couple of different options available. The Hawley and Essix models are both custom-designed to fit your mouth for the best results. When you complete the active phase of treatment, our team will take an impression of your teeth and use this to create your retainer.
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. While many orthodontists are moving away from using Hawley retainers, they can still be helpful in some instances.
Essix retainers look very similar to the clear aligners used with the Invisalign system. They’re made entirely 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 straightforward with removable retainers, but you will have to remember to wear them daily. It can also be easy to misplace or damage them, so you’ll need to be mindful of where your removable retainer is at all times and be careful when handling it.
What is involved in caring for a retainer?
Most retainers are slightly different, but they all tend to have similar instructions for care. Your customized retainer will come with a case to keep it in when you’re not wearing it. You’ll need to brush your retainer daily to keep it clean, and you may be instructed to avoid certain drinks when you’re wearing it. If you have a removable retainer, you should always take it out before eating. When you take good care of your retainer and follow our instructions for use, it should last for many years.
Keep your smile in place with Central Mass Orthodontics
Did you know that in the first year after treatment, your teeth can begin shifting back towards their old positions in as little as a few days? Wearing your retainer as directed will stop any drifting and help you enjoy long-lasting results!
The expert team here at Central Mass Orthodontics is committed to finding the best orthodontic treatment for your unique smile. That includes the right retainer for you! Our goal is to give you a straight and healthy smile that you’ll be able to enjoy for many years to come. If you have questions about retainers or the retention phase, we’re always happy to walk you through any concerns so you feel confident in the process. Get in touch today to learn more!