That’s sort of the way it is when you get braces. Patients are so excited the day they first get their braces, and nothing seems to match that excitement except the day they get those braces removed.
You might think of debonding day as the day you complete treatment. Not so fast. You’ve just entered a new phase: retention. This is the phase in which you wear retainers to help your teeth maintain their ideal positions.
I often place a fixed retainer on the lower front teeth, because these teeth are prone to relapse. Having the retainer bonded in place means you don’t have to remember to wear it—it’s always activated.
One down side to fixed retainers is it takes some extra effort from you and your dental hygienist to clean the teeth that the retainer is bonded to. But using a sonic toothbrush and getting between the teeth with a floss threader when you floss makes the job a bit easier.
We fabricate a removable retainer for your upper teeth in most cases. Now let’s address several questions we get asked a lot by parents and patients entering the retention phase:
What choices do I have when it comes to retainers?
We’ve already mentioned that retainers can be fixed or removable. But within the removable retainer category, there are two primary types: Essix and Hawley. The Essix retainer is clear plastic and resembles Invisalign. The Hawley consists of wires and clasps that are embedded in an acrylic body that goes over the roof of your mouth, or lies along the tongue side of your lower teeth.
The acrylic portion of Hawley retainers can be customized with colors and designs. You can show your school spirit or support your favorite sports team by choosing their team colors for your retainer. We even have retainers that have a peace sign in the design.
How often must I wear my retainer?
As you work through the retention phase, you will gradually go from wearing your retainer all the time, to just wearing it at night, and then perhaps to wearing it only a few nights per week.
I’ve said it on this blog before, but it bears repeating: retainers are for life. The teeth have a natural tendency to relapse, or revert to their old positioning, so wearing a retainer helps prevent that.
Although you eventually may get to the point where you need to wear your retainer only a few nights per week, you might do better continuing to wear it nightly, just to keep yourself in the habit. You can’t wear your retainer too much, but you certainly can fail to wear it often enough.
How do I keep my retainer clean?
Just as you brush and floss daily, your retainer requires a bit of care because it gets dirty, too.
The bacteria that lead to plaque on your teeth also can get on your retainer. Over time, your retainer can look dirty and smell bad, just like bad breath.
Brushing your retainer with your toothbrush isn’t enough to remove bacteria and odor. Some retainer styles such as the clear plastic retainers have lots of crevices where it’s difficult for a toothbrush to reach. Soak your retainer in a denture or retainer cleaner daily to keep it clean and odor-free. You also can soak it in hydrogen peroxide.
What should I do if my retainer no longer fits?
We see numerous adults each year who had orthodontic treatment as kids, but they lost, damaged or quit wearing their retainers. If they find an old retainer and try to place it on their teeth, they often find that it no longer fits. That is because the teeth have relapsed.
If you’re in this situation, call our office to schedule a consultation so we can evaluate your teeth and offer a recommendation. Sometimes you may just need a new retainer. In some cases you may need another round of orthodontic treatment to achieve the desired tooth movement.
Can I repair my retainer myself?
Particularly with the Hawley retainer, you might think you can fix it yourself with some sort of glue if the wire comes apart from the acrylic. This isn’t the case.
Please call our office for an appointment if you have broken your retainer. Repairing them requires special tools. We will fix it if we can, and repair it if we can’t.
Will I eventually need to replace my retainer?
The answer to this question is: most likely. Nothing lasts forever, and that includes retainers. If you have a clear plastic retainer and you grind or clench your teeth when you sleep, you might wear through the plastic and eventually need to have a new one made.
Retainers that are damaged or lost should be replaced immediately to prevent the need for additional orthodontic treatment in the future.
Please call our office for a checkup if you notice that your teeth have shifted. Be sure to bring your retainer so we can inspect it and observe how it fits in your mouth. We will let you know if it needs to be replaced.
Can I use my Essix retainers for teeth whitening treatments?
You probably can. The teeth whitening trays you might get with take-home whitening systems from your dentist closely resemble Essix retainers. Let your dentist know that you have Essix retainers, and he or she will confirm whether they can serve as your whitening trays, too.
I hope you’ve found this information helpful to you. If you have additional questions about retainers, feel free to call our office.