Today you have a beautiful smile; one that is the result of years of hard work, your orthodontist’s supervision, and lots of responsibility on your part. But just because your orthodontic treatment is finished, it doesn’t mean your responsibility is, too. The next phase of orthodontic treatment is known as retention and it has only just begun.
Retention is a critical follow-through stage that involves wearing a customized orthodontic appliance called a retainer. There are three types of retainers, each with the job of “retaining” the tooth alignment you achieved with braces.
Retainer types include:
- Hawley– this retainer is made of wire and acrylic. The acrylic is molded to the palate of your upper or lower jaw and the wire runs along the front of your teeth.
- Clear plastic – this appliance is similar to an Invisalign aligner or a lightweight mouthguard.
- Fixed or bonded– fixed retainers are most commonly used on lower teeth. A metal wire is bonded to the backs of your incisors, where it will remain indefinitely.
But why do teeth need to be retained?
Because – in a nutshell – they will move if they aren’t!
To best comprehend the reason your teeth need to be retained, it helps to understand their anatomy. Teeth aren’t set in your jawbone like posts in concrete. Instead, they are anchored in alveolar (boney) sockets by a network of fibrous, connective tissue collectively known as the periodontal ligament.
When you and your orthodontist decide you are not happy with the position of your teeth, understand that your teeth are happy with their position. The ligaments suspending your teeth are at an ideal tension and the bone surrounding them is healthy and stable. Only the perfect amount of continuous pressure will move your teeth. That’s where your orthodontist comes into play.
Your orthodontist uses braces to apply force to your teeth. This force causes a unique chain of events, which allows your orthodontist to “remodel” your smile.
Let’s say we use Invisalign to apply pressure that moves your tooth left. This pressure will cause the fibers on the right side of the tooth to stretch while the fibers on the left side of the tooth become slack. If you released the pressure now, the stretched fibers would pull the tooth right back into the original position like a stretched rubber band snapping back into shape – not as quickly, of course, but similar in theory. On the other hand, if the tooth is made to maintain this position (retention), or incremental increases in pressure are applied (active orthodontic treatment), something interesting happens. As the stretched fibers tug on the alveolar bone it triggers osteoblasts (bone making cells) to produce new bone on that side of the socket to reduce tension, while on the other side, osteoclasts destroy bone to increase tension. The body naturally adapts and restores balance to the structures surrounding your teeth.
When orthodontic treatment is finished, the teeth must be retained in their new position while the ligaments fully adjust to their new position and bone growth/absorption cycles subside.
How Long Do I Have to Wear My Retainer?
You are fitted with a retainer immediately following your orthodontic treatment and as a good rule of thumb, should expect to wear your removable retainer for at least the same amount of time you wore your fixed braces. Patients who wore braces to close gaps in their teeth may have to wear their retainer for a longer period of time.
If you are disappointed because you thought once you got your braces off that meant you could show them off, not cover them with a retainer, don’t.
At Orthodontics Only, we prefer using a fixed retainer for the bottom incisors, which is placed behind the teeth and not visible, and a removable retainer for the upper teeth. The fixed retainer will be worn indefinitely and we ask that our patients wear their removable upper retainer each night when they sleep.
Risk of relapse is high in the first month your braces are off, so it is pertinent that you adhere to the guidelines set by your provider from the beginning.
There was a time when doctors believed retainers were only necessary for a short period of time, but more now agree retainers are for life – if you want to maintain alignment. The reason isn’t as much that your teeth will always want to go to their old position but that we never stop growing and our bones never stop moving.
Do retainers hurt?
The retainer itself should not cause you any discomfort – as long as you wear it as directed. If you go a few consecutive nights without wearing it, your teeth will migrate. While the movement will be minute and not visible to the naked eye, you will notice your retainer fits more snugly the next time you wear it. For the next few days of consecutive/appropriate wear, it won’t be unusual for you to feel a little soreness. This minor discomfort is easily avoided by adhering to our guidelines of nightly wear.
Will it interfere with daily life?
Since you can easily get your retainer wear in while you sleep, it should not interfere with your routine. If you find yourself having to work an overnight, or in a predicament where you can’t wear your retainer for an entire night, you can make lost time up during the day. If your routine is consistently interrupted, please call us for an appointment to make sure your teeth aren’t at risk of relapsing into their misaligned state.
Will I have to maintain a strict diet?
Even though you will always have your fixed retainer in while you eat, you should be able to eat what you wish. If your fixed retainer is knocked loose, you will need to have it reattached, so it’s still a good idea to exercise caution when eating hard, sticky and chewy items.
Retaining your retainer
It’s important that you provide proper care for your retainer. A damaged retainer won’t retain your teeth, and a dirty one can harbor decay-causing bacteria.
Depending on the style of retainer you have been prescribed, soaking it in denture cleaner, peroxide, or vinegar or mouthwash solution, and brushing it with toothpaste will keep it free of debris and bacteria growth. Your retainer will also be less likely to get damaged if you keep it in a case when it is not being worn.
If you have always wanted straight teeth and live in or around Miami, clear braces at Orthodontics Only might be an option for you. Call today for a free initial consultation.