After all your hard work, the active phase of your orthodontic treatment is almost complete. We’ll be revealing your beautiful new smile soon, and the team here at Johnson Family Orthodontics is nearly as excited as you are to see the final results! But once your braces come off or you use your last clear aligner, another phase of treatment begins, one that’s just as important as the first—retention! Dr. Johnson will tell you everything you need to know about wearing and caring for your customized retainer when the time comes. In the meantime, here’s what you need to know about the last stage of treatment before you make the transition!
What do retainers do?
Put simply, retainers keep your newly straightened teeth in place after the active phase of treatment is complete. Braces and clear aligners apply gentle but continuous pressure to the teeth to move them into the desired positions. But once that pressure is removed, the teeth can quickly shift back to their previous positions. That’s where retainers come in! They hold your teeth in their new places so you can enjoy your beautifully aligned smile for many years to come.
Why are retainers so important?
If there’s one thing we can say about our teeth, it’s that they’re incredibly stubborn! It requires an enormous amount of pressure to move them into the optimal positions so the gums can grow around them in support. This is what happens during the active phase of treatment, but that pressure can’t be placed on your teeth indefinitely.
That pressure will be relieved once we remove your braces or you use your last aligners, which is good and necessary. However, your mouth will need an unspecified amount of time to grow enough support to keep your teeth in their new places. That means more pressure, but not nearly as much as we needed to straighten your teeth. Without this added pressure, your teeth will begin to drift apart, undoing all your hard work.
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 set in their new positions permanently.
How long will retainers need to be worn once treatment is complete?
Most retainers are 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. In some cases, we may recommend wearing your retainer during the day 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 worry! Your retainer will become just another part of your daily routine before you know it.
What types of retainers are available?
Thanks to modern technology, we’re able to offer patients fixed orthodontic appliances like braces and removable appliances like Invisalign clear aligners. We have the same flexibility when it comes to retainers! Here’s a look at the different types of retainers that are available.
Fixed retainers generally consist of a thin wire that’s 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—and the best part is, you never have to remember to wear them!
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 certain cases.
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. They can also be pretty easy to misplace or damage, so you’ll need to be mindful of where it is at all times and be careful when handling it.
Is it difficult to care for retainers?
While most retainers are slightly different, they all tend to have similar instructions for care. All retainers come with a case to keep them in when not in use. 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 remove it before eating. If you take good care of your retainer and follow Dr. Johnson’s instructions, it can last for many years!
Keep your smile in line with Johnson Family Orthodontics
You’d be surprised by how quickly teeth can begin shifting if there’s no pressure in place. In the first year after treatment, this can happen in as little as a few days! If you don’t wear your retainer regularly, this drifting will continue, undoing the beautifully straight smile you’ve worked so hard for.
Fortunately, keeping your newly straightened teeth in place is as simple as wearing your retainer as directed by Dr. Johnson! Do you have questions about retainers or the retention phase? Get in touch today and we’ll be happy to walk you through any concerns you have. We’re always here to help you achieve the healthiest smile possible!