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Once you complete your orthodontic treatment, you want the results to last as long as possible. Orthodontic retainers help protect your investment and preserve current tooth spacing.
Retainers come in a variety of designs. Depending on your age, preferences, and lifestyle, we can help you select the one that’s best for your smile.
Why do I Need a Retainer?
Understanding the importance of retainers comes down to something we call “orthodontic relapse.” Your teeth are surrounded by thousands of tiny, stretchy ligaments. These ligaments have a semi-permanent memory of where the tooth was positioned before your orthodontic treatment started. When your braces are removed, it’s normal for those tooth ligaments to want to pull your teeth back into their previous location. When they do, it causes complete relapse of your treatment.
To prevent orthodontic relapse, you must wear a retainer once your braces are removed. The retainer helps to preserve current tooth alignment and placing. Depending on your age and the complexity of your treatment, one type of retainer may be preferred over another.
How Long Should I Wear a Retainer?
The success of your orthodontic treatment is fairly dependent upon how well you comply with wearing your retainer. In the early months after treatment, try to wear your retainer for most of the day. Or we may advise that you only wear it at nighttime while you’re sleeping. Be sure to wear it nightly in this scenario. Over the years you may find that you have to wear it less frequently to keep your teeth in line.
Fixed (Bonded) Retainers
Bonded retainers are thin wires that are permanently attached to the back (lingual) surface of your teeth, next to your tongue. They’re usually placed in spaces where teeth are more prone to relapse or continued drifting due to natural muscle movements. In nearly all cases they’re placed on the lower front teeth reaching from one canine to the other, spanning the width of six teeth. However, if you had a large gap between your upper front teeth prior to orthodontic treatment, a shorter lingual retainer may be bonded to the back of your two front teeth.
Since bonded retainers are semi-permanent, you may be wondering when you can have them removed. We highly suggest leaving them intact for as long as possible. Even if it’s been 10-15 years since your treatment was completed, removing a bonded retainer could predispose you to orthodontic relapse.
Removable Hawley Retainers
A Hawley retainer is perhaps the most traditional, recognizable type of orthodontic retainer. These appliances have a thin metal wire that hugs the outside of your teeth, then loops back around to attach to an acrylic base over the roof of your mouth. The acrylic can be pink to blend in with your tissues, but younger patients tend to enjoy customizing the color of the appliance to make them more creative. Only the wire is visible when you’re wearing the retainer.
Clear Retainers (Rigid)
Transparent retainers — such as Vivera retainers — look almost identical to Invisalign trays. Their rigid, translucent design makes it easy to wear them any time of the day without attracting too much attention. Although they look similar to clear aligners, they’re more rigid and durable. The slightly firmer design helps to ensure teeth don’t drift out of place. They’re even designed in a way that allows them to “correct” slight tooth shifting if you’ve gone a period of time since wearing them last.
Some people use their clear retainers to double as whitening trays, especially since they’re sleeping in them overnight. If that’s something you’re interested in, be sure to talk to our dental provider about which type of gel is safest for your appliance (and teeth.)
Caring for Your Appliance
As with any other removable dental device, you need to clean your retainer daily. Plan to soak it in a gentle denture cleanser and brush it well each day. Avoid hot water or storing it in high temperatures.
If You Need a New Retainer
Life happens. If you misplace, break, or accidentally melt your retainer, let your dentist know. Sometimes a 3D model of your teeth will be on file, making it possible to re-print an exact replica of your missing retainer. But when that’s not an option, it’s important to go ahead and see your current dental provider to have an impression made of your teeth, so that a new retainer can be fabricated before your teeth drift out of alignment. Delaying the process could result in relapse.
Call Us for More Information
If you need to update your retainer, replace a broken one, or find out which one to get once your braces come off, contact our office at (617) 527-6061 or request an appointment online.