When the day to take off your braces finally arrives, you may think that once the brackets are removed, you will no longer have to worry about your teeth shifting out of alignment. But this is actually not true. Many patients end up with crooked or crowded teeth even after going through months of wearing braces.
To prevent your teeth from shifting out of place, your orthodontist will fit you with a dental retainer for you to wear daily so that your teeth do not shift, or relapse, back into old positions.
What is a Retainer?
Your orthodontist will give you a custom-made set of retainers after your braces that should perfectly fit your upper and lower teeth. Retainers can be made of metal or plastic and can be worn for years after having your braces removed to ensure your teeth stay aligned.
While there is some variation in what your dentist or orthodontist recommends, typically you should wear your retainer for most of the day and night, except when eating or brushing your teeth for about four to six months after having your braces removed. After that, you can switch to only sleeping in your retainer.
Teeth Retainer Benefits
Keeping your teeth aligned is important, not only to maintain a beautiful, straight smile but also for the health of your mouth. Straight teeth are easier to clean and have fewer hard-to-reach areas for your toothbrush.
So, what are retainers for? Retainers play a vital role in preventing your teeth from going back into crooked, crowded, or misaligned positions. Some types of retainers, like the clear retainers that fit over your teeth, can provide protection if you tend to grind your teeth while you sleep.
Different Types of Retainers
Retainers fall into two basic categories — removable and permanent. Your dentist or orthodontist will recommend one or the other, or both. Knowing a little about each kind of retainer will help you to figure out which types are best for you.
Removable retainers are not attached to your teeth in any way and can be easily taken out. Because of this, you should not chew gum or eat while wearing a removable retainer. There are two types of removable retainers you can choose from.
- Clear plastic retainers that fit snugly over your teeth, allowing others to see your teeth through the clear plastic. They look very similar to Invisalign braces.
- Traditional wire retainers, or Hawley retainers, have a single metal wire that goes across the front of your teeth and a plastic or acrylic part that fits nicely into the roof of your mouth.
Permanent or fixed retainers attach to the inside, or back, of your teeth and hold the teeth in the right position. A fixed retainer will last for years if you clean it well each day. Permanent retainers are also very discreet and can not be seen when you smile.
How long does a permanent retainer stay on? A permanent retainer should stay attached to your teeth until a dentist removes it. As long as it is not causing plaque to build up because of improper cleaning, your dentist may leave your fixed retainer on for well over ten years.
It is very common to have a fixed retainer on your bottom teeth while having a removable retainer on your upper teeth.
How Retainers Work to Maintain Your Smile
Braces are constantly adding pressure to specific teeth to get them to move into the right position. With so much pushing and pulling on your teeth, the bone that holds your teeth in place can break down to a certain extent to allow for movement. After the braces are removed, it is important to keep your teeth in place so the jawbones can rebuild.
Your dentist may only recommend that you wear your retainer at night for about ten years so the bones and muscles can fully stabilize. But according to the American Association of Orthodontics, you should wear your retainer at night for the rest of your life if you want your teeth to remain straight.
How Often Should You Wear Retainers?
When you first get your braces off, the muscles, gums, and bones that support your teeth will need time to become firm once again. Wearing your retainer for the first several months for about 22 hours a day is crucial to keeping your teeth aligned. After the first several months, your dentist may recommend that you only sleep in your retainer.
The Importance of Proper Care for Your Retainers
While wearing a retainer can really help your teeth stay beautifully straight, it comes with the added responsibility of taking good care of your retainer.
Storing your retainer
Properly storing your retainer when you are not wearing it is crucial so you will be able to find it when you need it. Whether you have a clear retainer or a traditional wire retainer, always put it in its case when you remove it. A case is a lot easier to locate than a clear or single-wire retainer.
If you are going to school or out to lunch, you will need to think ahead and make sure you bring your case with you. Not only will the case protect the retainer from getting bent or broken, but it will also help you find it easily. Wrapping your retainer in a napkin at lunch could be mistakenly thrown away.
Cleaning your retainer
Just like your teeth need to be cleaned every day, knowing how to clean your retainer is also important. Rinsing your retainer with cold water every time you take it out will help remove anything that may get stuck to it.
At least once a day, scrub your removable retainer with a soft bristles toothbrush. You can disinfect it by adding a drop of dish soap, gently scrubbing all sides of the retainer, then rinsing thoroughly. Avoid using toothpaste to clean your retainer because it can be too abrasive.
Once a week, you can deep clean your retainer by letting it soak in a special solution made for retainers for the recommended time on the instructions. Always ask your dentist for recommendations on what kind of solution to use and how long to let it soak.
Cleaning a fixed retainer may be a bit more challenging at first because you will be working inside of your mouth. Bonded or fixed retainers are attached to the inside of your teeth and regular oral hygiene like brushing or flossing is enough to remove any food that may get caught in the metal wire.
The key to keeping your teeth healthy when having a fixed retainer is intentionally brushing and flossing around each tooth that the wire goes across. Having a retainer glued to your teeth provides new places for plaque and bacteria to grow. A few ways to make it easier to clean your teeth and your permanent retainer are:
- Use a floss threader so you can get the floss under the wire
- Use a water flosser to clean around the retainer
- Use superfloss to insert floss through your teeth
Questions to Ask Your Dentist About Retainers
The best way to make sure you choose the right retainer that fits you best is to communicate clearly with your dentist. Your mouth is unique and only your dentist has the insight to give you personalized advice and recommendations. Here is a list of helpful questions to ask your dentist about retainers.
- Which type of retainer is the most durable?
- How expensive is a clear retainer?
- How often will I need to get a new clear retainer?
- What should I do if my retainer breaks?
- What should I do if I lose my retainer?
- Why are permanent retainers more expensive that removable retainers?
- What are the pros and cons of having a permanent retainer?
- Is it normal for my retainer to be painful or uncomfortable?
- Will my teeth shift if I don't wear my retainer for just one day?
- Do I have to wear a retainer forever?
Finding the Right Dental Service Provider for Retainers
If you need to have your braces removed and are also looking for a dentist or orthodontist to fit you for a retainer, Smile Generation can give you a list of highly recommended dental professionals, including retainer specialists, in your community. Use our Find a Dentist tool to find an orthodontist near you.
"What To Know Before You Get a Retainer." Healthline, 29 May 2018, https://www.healthline.com/health/retainer-types
"Retainers." Cleveland Clinic, 25 Aug. 2022, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/10899-teeth-retainer
Smile Generation, 12 Feb, 2023, https://www.smilegeneration.com/
"Will I Need to Wear Retainers After Treatment?" American Association of Orthodontics, 22 Aug. 2019, https://aaoinfo.org/whats-trending/will-i-need-to-wear-retainers/&_rt_nonce=14e5346bb7