One of the happiest days of a patient’s life is when they have completed orthodontic treatment and – if they had treatment with brackets and arch wires – made it through debonding day.

We’re just as excited as our patients are to see the finished product. It’s awesome to see big smiles on faces when patients see their beautiful smiles for the first time. But this isn’t the end of the treatment road.

If you want to continue to have a beautiful smile for life, protect your orthodontic investment with this very important next step: Wear your retainers as prescribed. Retainers are custom-made appliances for upper and lower arches designed to keep teeth in place after braces are removed. Theyhelp maintain proper alignment as your teeth settle into the soft tissue and jawbone.

How long you must wear your retainers after treatment depends on a multitude of factors. A good rule of thumb is to wear upper and lower retainers day and night for one year after orthodontic treatment ends. After that, you typically can taper back to wearing your retainer nightly, and eventually just a few nights a week.

If it better keeps you in the habit to wear it nightly, go for it. You can’t wear your retainers too much, but you certainly can wear them too infrequently. If you get to the point where you are not wearing your retainer on a routine basis, be sure to pop them in every couple of weeks to test the fit. If you feel pressure when wearing it, this is a sign that your teeth have shifted. I recommend wearing it nightly again until the pressure sensation goes away. Then you can go back to wearing it every few nights.

Teeth Routinely Move

Why should retainers be considered part of your life from now on? Teeth move, as I just referenced above. Just as we moved your teeth into proper alignment, your teeth have a natural tendency to revert to their old positions if steps are not taken to maintain proper alignment.

The reason they can shift out of alignment is the same reason why we were able to correct your misaligned teeth to begin with: Ligaments. These stretchy connectors attach teeth to jawbone. Because they stretch, teeth can be moved. But these ligaments also have a memory, in that they sense where they once were and when those braces are removed, teeth may seek to follow their old pathway back to their original positions.

Every time you bite something, pressure is applied to your teeth. Even your tongue can apply forces to teeth. Over time, these forces can cause teeth to shift in alignment.

Types of Retainers

Fixed– The recommendation to wear retainers as prescribed is easy when you have a fixed retainer. Also called a permanent or bonded retainer, we often install this orthodontic appliance on the backs of the lower teeth to maintain proper alignment. A fixed retainer remains in place and cannot be removed by the wearer without breaking it. This retainer will last practically forever if you take good care of it, and it does not get bent or broken by eating chewy, sticky foods.

The biggest benefit of this retainer type is that it removes compliance from the equation. If it is bonded to the teeth, it will be worn 24/7 and the teeth will remain in the same position.

One aspect of fixed retainers that might be seen as a negative is the process of flossing your teeth after meals. Flossing with a bonded retainer takes a bit longer and requires a floss threader. But don’t be deterred by this, as it only adds about a minute to your flossing time.

You can spare a minute to maintain your beautiful smile, right?

Removable– This retainer is custom-fabricated to fit over your wonderfully aligned teeth. When worn, it maintains your teeth’s positions and prevents them from shifting over the course of time. You can remove your retainer for key moments, such as photographs, interviews, speaking engagements and musical performances. Oral hygiene is simple because you don’t have to brush or floss around appliances.

Compliance is key when it comes to removable retainers. They can’t do their jobs if they’re in a case in your bathroom. They must be on your teeth!

Relapse

Many of our adult patients wore braces when they were younger and they come to us because their teeth have relapsed, either because they stopped wearing their retainers or the retainers got broken and never replaced.

Our primary goal is to help our patients keep their smiles beautifully aligned by promoting the notion of “retainers for life.” Your retainers really should be a part of your routine periodically for life to truly ensure that they remain aligned. But don’t despair if you’re an adult who didn’t follow their orthodontist’s advice on retainer wear. We can help you restore your alignment.

Invisalign frequently is an ideal option for relapse cases. It’s definitely an option that adults like, because the clear plastic aligners are practically invisible when worn. Very few people will notice that you’re in treatment. They are similar to removable retainers, in that they can be removed to eat, drink and brush/floss your teeth. They also can be removed for key moments.

Also like removable retainers, they don’t work when they aren’t worn, so we recommend that you wear them 22 hours per day.

In other cases where Invisalign is not the best option, I may recommend conventional braces to properly align the teeth. There are many aesthetic options with this form of treatment, including ceramic or sapphire clear braces, as well as lingual braces, which go on the tongue-side of the teeth.

Learn More

I hope that if you are a current or former orthodontic patient, this article provides the proper encouragement to wear your retainers faithfully as directed.

If you are an adult who underwent treatment in adolescence and your teeth have relapsed, feel free to call our office to schedule a consultation. We welcome new patientsand are happy to evaluate your smile and offer some treatment recommendations to get your teeth back into their ideal position. Our consultations include a thorough assessment including digital photos and X-rays so we can give you a precise treatment recommendation.