If you have just finished your orthodontic treatment, congratulations! You have worked hard to have your teeth straight, and now you have the beautiful smile that you always wanted. Now comes the question of how long do you have to wear retainers? The answer may surprise you!
- What are retainers?
- What do they do?
- How long do you have to wear them after braces?
- Types of retainers
- Taking care of your retainers
- What to do if you lose or break your retainer
- When to see a dentist about your retainers
What are retainers?
Retainers are a type of dental appliance that helps maintain the position of teeth after orthodontic treatment. They are custom-made for each individual who needs one. They fit the top of the teeth and mouth. No two retainers are alike, even though many look similar.
Retainers help maintain the results of orthodontic treatment by preventing teeth from moving back to their original position.
What do they do?
Maintain your teeth alignment
You might need a retainer for a few reasons. The most common cause is to help your teeth stay set in their new positions after wearing braces. It’s essential to wear your retainer because your teeth do some shifting as your body grows, especially if you have missing teeth. The retainer helps to control this shifting, which occurs naturally.
Address some medical problems
Retainers can help many mouth problems besides shifting teeth. Sometimes they’re used to address a medical problem. For example, you may have a tongue thrust (a condition where your tongue sneaks through your teeth when you talk). Some retainers, known as crib or tongue cage retainers, are designed with small metal bars that hang down from the roof of your mouth. These retainers keep your tongue from going forward in between your teeth when you speak. Your tongue is trained to go to the roof of your mouth instead of through your teeth. The length of time kids wear a tongue cage varies depending on the kid.
TMJ or Teeth grinding
Another use for retainers is to help people with temporomandibular disorder (TMD). This disorder is usually a result of a bite problem (the teeth don’t meet together adequately when the jaws are closed) called malocclusion or bruxism, which is grinding your teeth while you sleep. Grinding stretches the muscles and joints in your mouth and jaws and sometimes can cause jaw pain or headaches. Retainers can help you by preventing your mouth from closing entirely at night, which keeps you from grinding your teeth.
How long do you have to wear them after braces?
After braces, most people need to wear retainers for at least 12 months. However, some people, especially those wearing fixed or bonded retainers, may need to wear retainers forever to maintain the results of orthodontic treatment. Retainers help keep teeth in their new positions by preventing teeth from moving back to their original positions.
What to expect after your orthodontic treatment?
Your orthodontist will fit you for the retainer using a material known as alginate. It’s a chewy, chalky kind of thick liquid that makes a mold of your lower or upper teeth when you sink them into it. The fitting process is fast, painless, and doesn’t even taste bad. Once you’ve been fitted for the retainer, you usually have to wait less than a week to get the real thing. You may think your retainer feels weird at first. That’s normal. But see your orthodontist for an adjustment if the retainer causes pain or cuts or rubs against your gums.
At first, you’ll need to get used to talking with it in your mouth. Talking slowly at first is an excellent way to practice, and eventually, you won’t even notice it’s there. Dentists advise reading aloud for several minutes each day. You may also feel an increased saliva flow (more spit in your mouth) in the first few days of wearing your new retainer, which is normal.
Types of retainers
There are two types of retainers: a fixed or permanent retainer and a removable retainer. Fixed retainers are cemented to the back of teeth and cannot be removed. Removable retainers, such as retainer braces, are worn during the day and stored at night, or vice versa.
There are two kinds of removable retainers: Hawley retainer and clear plastic retainers.
These are removable retainers made of thin metal wire and plastic or acrylic shaped to fit the roof of your mouth or along the inside of your lower teeth. The attached metal wire runs across the outside of your teeth to maintain alignment.
Clear plastic retainers
These are removable retainers that are molded to perfectly fit the new position of your teeth. To make this type of retainer, a teeth mold is created. Very thin plastic or polyurethane is then heated and sucked down around the mold.
Three common brands manufacture clear retainers: Vivera, Essix, and Zendura.
Permanent retainers consist of a solid or braided wire that is curved to fit the shape of your newly straightened teeth. The wire is cemented (bonded) to the inside of your front teeth to keep them from moving. Most often used on lower teeth, they are also called a fixed retainer, lingual wire retainer, or bonded retainer. They can’t be removed except by your orthodontist or dentist.
They’re often used when an orthodontist thinks the teeth are very likely to relapse or the person (such as a young child) won’t follow the instructions for using a removable retainer. Although some are removed at some point, usually because of the excess buildup of plaque and tartar or gum irritation, most are left in place indefinitely.
Taking care of your retainers
To keep your retainers in good condition, follow these tips:
Maintain good oral hygiene. Brush your retainer regularly every day with toothpaste and a toothbrush. Whether removable or fixed, wires can accumulate food that turns to plaque. Oral hygiene is essential to prevent dental issues while wearing your retainers.
Keep your retainer clean. Soak them in orthodontic cleaner or denture cleaner every night.
Store them properly. Keep them in a retainer case when you’re not wearing them. Never place it on a napkin or tissue because it can get thrown away.
Watch what you eat. Avoid sticky foods, such as caramel, gummies, and chewy candy.
Stay out of the heat. Don’t store clear retainers in hot vehicles or drink hot drinks with them in your mouth. The heat can warp the retainer, which will affect the fit and could potentially result in your teeth shifting.
Replace them as needed. Your retainers will have an expiry date: know when you should throw them away.
What to do if you lose or break your retainer
If you lose or break your retainer, don’t panic! Here are a few steps to follow:
- If you lose your retainer, try to find it before buying a new one. Check all of your pockets, under your bed, and in any other places where it may have landed.
- If you can’t find your retainer, go to the orthodontist and ask for a replacement. You may need to pay for it, so make sure you have your insurance card on hand.
- If you break your retainer, take it to the orthodontist and immediately ask for a new one. Not wearing your retainer, even for just a night or two, will result in your teeth shifting. It is essential to get a new one to maintain your smile.
The easiest way to ensure your smile stays straight is to think ahead and always have a spare set on hand, especially when you are not using permanent retainers.
When to see a dentist about your retainers
If you have any issues with your retainers, such as pain, discomfort, or excessive plaque and tartar buildup, make an appointment to see your dentist. They can help resolve the issue and keep your smile looking great!
Wearing a retainer according to your orthodontist’s instructions is essential to maintaining the results of your braces. Your instructions will vary according to your specific needs. Some people need to wear a retainer every day for four months, while others will be instructed to wear theirs for 12 months. Almost all orthodontists recommend that you use some form of retainer each night, indefinitely, after removing your braces.