Orthodontics refers to a myriad of treatments that can address issues such as crooked or crowded teeth, jaw alignment, and even crossbite, overbite, and underbite situations.
Braces may be attached to the teeth and can be tightened in various places by an orthodontist until the teeth are pressed into the desired position over an average period of about 22 months. After the treatment is completed, your orthodontist will remove the metal braces from your teeth and may recommend that you wear a retainer for a period of time to be sure your teeth stay aligned. Wearing retainers after braces will certainly feel less invasive and allow you to eat freely because you can take your retainer out during meal times.
Similar to the discomfort felt when your braces were adjusted or tightened, a retainer can feel tight around your teeth, especially after you have gone a period of time without wearing it or when your wisdom teeth begin to erupt. This is why wearing a retainer is so crucial. Your teeth will naturally start to shift and move while your retainer maintains the placement of your teeth. The more consistent you are with wearing your retainer, the more comfortable it will be, and your teeth will continue to be as straight as the day your braces were removed.
Do I Really Need to Wear My Retainer?
The biggest mistake orthodontic patients can make after treatment is not wearing their retainers. The satisfaction of the appearance of their smiles after the braces are removed can lead patients to believe that the retainer is unneeded. Another reason why wearing retainers after braces are neglected is that a firm habit of daily use is never established. A Smile Generation®-trusted orthodontist named Dr. Sergio Ferreira commented on how to make wearing your retainer a habit by saying, "I always tell my patients: wearing retainers to sleep does not bring any inconvenience to you. They are the pajamas for your teeth. I am much older than you and I still wear mine. I had treatment as an adult and I understand how inconvenient it can be to maintain a consistent schedule." A lot of patients end up needing braces again because they did not wear their retainers properly.
Why Should I Wear a Retainer?
Braces are used to move teeth into their ideal positions, but it may take some effort to keep them in place once your orthodontic treatment ends. Not only could the teeth drift back toward their original positions, but they could shift naturally throughout your life. To maintain your results, your orthodontist may recommend wearing a retainer.
Wearing a retainer as prescribed may help keep your teeth where your orthodontist moved them. Holding the teeth in place allows the structures that support them to heal, which is important for the long-term stability of your orthodontic treatment.
Even after your orthodontic results are stable, your orthodontist may recommend continuing to wear a retainer. The daily stresses of biting and chewing, coupled with the natural changes that come with aging, could shift your teeth to new positions over time. Your teeth could also shift positions if you have a habit of clenching and grinding your teeth or if you have certain oral health problems, such as gum disease.
Can I Wear A Retainer While Playing Sports?
It is super important to follow your orthodontist’s instructions about retainer wear. Most doctors would recommend wearing your retainers "full time" for the first 6 to 12 months after your braces are removed except when you are brushing, flossing or eating. When it comes to non-contact sports, I recommend that patients wear their retainers during practice, but leave them out during competition—we do not want you to miss a spike against the opposing team because your retainer popped out!
What Happens if You Don’t Wear Your Retainer?
If you don’t wear your retainer as often as your orthodontist recommends, your teeth may not stay in their healthy new positions. When you put in the retainer, you might notice that it feels a bit snug. This could be a sign that your teeth have started to shift out of place, and the retainer needs to be worn more often.
When you don’t wear your retainer for a long period of time, it may not fit when you try to start wearing it again. That may happen if your teeth shift too far from their proper positions. If your retainer doesn’t fit, don’t try to force it onto your teeth. Your orthodontist may be able to make you a replacement retainer.
Sometimes, the teeth may shift enough that your orthodontist recommends a touch-up treatment. For example, they may suggest a series of clear aligners to move your teeth back into their correct positions. If you get a touch-up treatment, remember to wear your retainer afterward to maintain the results.
Phase One (1) Recommendations
Children can avoid many issues in their mouths by getting treatment for possible tooth placement situations earlier rather than later. A two-phase treatment plan can assist children with jaw development, the avoidance of corrective surgeries or pulling permanent teeth, and intervening in cases of damaging pressure, or abnormal swallowing habits that can move teeth and create potential problems in the future. Phase One begins when a child still has some baby teeth and also has several permanent teeth as well. This first phase of orthodontics is recommended to avoid situations like:
- Crossbites: A crossbite is when one or all of the upper teeth are inside the lower teeth when you bite. A posterior crossbite happens in the back of the mouth while an anterior crossbite happens with the front teeth. Adults are more difficult to treat for crossbites than children, and oral surgery may be the only solution for correction.
- Flaring of upper incisors: This happens when the upper front teeth jut forward, often referred to as bucked teeth.
- Severe crowding: Expansion of the arches or serial extraction of deciduous teeth may be performed at an early age to open spaces for erupting teeth.
Retainer Types and Length of Time for Wearing Them
Depending on what your needs are once your braces are removed, there are two main types of retainers: removable and fixed. Your orthodontist will recommend a retainer type and give you a length of time in which to wear your retainer.
Removable retainers are those you can put in and take out on your own. Removable options include:
- Wire retainers. These removable retainers are also known as Hawley retainers or traditional retainers. The retainer features a thin, metal wire that runs across the front of your teeth and a plastic or acrylic plate that covers the roof of your mouth. Orthodontists may offer a variety of plate options, from a natural pink that blends in with the inside of your mouth to bold colors and personalized designs.
- Clear retainers. Clear retainers are also called invisible retainers or Essex retainers. They’re made from a clear, plastic-like material that’s molded to fit over your teeth. Since they have no metal wires, they offer a more natural appearance than traditional retainers.
Many people want to know: how long do you have to wear a retainer each day? After your braces are removed, your orthodontist may recommend wearing a removable retainer full-time. This means wearing the retainer 24/7 and only removing it when it’s time to eat or brush your teeth. You may need to wear the retainer full-time for as little as four months or as long as a year.
During this time, remember to see your orthodontist for routine checkups. They can check your retainer and monitor your tooth movement. If you are asking yourself, "When can I stop wearing a retainer?" The answer actually varies based on how your teeth are responding. If your straightened teeth are stable in their new positions, your orthodontist may recommend only wearing the retainer at night. This nighttime wear may be necessary for a few months or years, depending on how stable your teeth are.
Fixed retainers are also called permanent retainers or bonded retainers. They consist of a thin, custom-fitted wire that’s cemented to the backside of your front teeth. Fixed retainers may be fitted to the upper and/or lower teeth. Since fixed retainers are cemented to your teeth, they may help keep your teeth in their new positions for many years. The lifespan of your retainer could vary based on the type of wire and how well you take care of your teeth. One study found that most fixed retainers remain on the teeth for as long as 10 to 15 years.
Despite their name, permanent retainers may not need to stay in your mouth forever. Your orthodontist may recommend removing the retainer if you’ve worn it long enough for your teeth to remain in their new positions. Other reasons it might need to be removed include:
- Oral hygiene concerns. Some people may find it difficult to brush and floss around the permanent retainer. If your orthodontist notices plaque and tartar building up around your retainer, they may recommend removing it.
- Damage to the retainer. Like your braces, a fixed retainer could break or loosen if you bite or chew sticky or hard foods, such as candy or ice cubes. Over the years, daily wear and tear could also damage the retainer.
- Tooth pain or discomfort. After a successful orthodontic treatment, the teeth generally don’t move or shift enough to cause discomfort. However, if your teeth continue to hurt, your orthodontist may recommend removing the permanent retainer.
If you are in need of a new retainer or are due for a routine check-up, use our Find a Dentist Tool to find a trusted dentist near you.
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