Why Retainers After Orthodontic Treatment Are Essential & How to Care For Yours

Congratulations! Your treatment plan for braces is complete and you have the smile you always wanted. Keep in mind, though, that retainers after orthodontic treatment are critical to keeping your teeth from shifting back into their old positions. It’s a small price to pay to maintain that new smile you worked so hard for.

It takes teeth time to become firmly set in their new position, perhaps up to 18 months. The first three to six months are critical, so your orthodontist will probably advise you to wear the retainer for about 20 hours each day. After that, you will be able to wear it less every day. Remember, though, that it will require long-term use to prevent regression. 

In this article, you will learn not only exactly why retainers are so important, but also how long you’ll have to wear them, the different kinds of retainers, and how to adequately care for your retainers. 


The Reasons That Retainers Are Critical 

It might surprise you to know that your teeth aren’t the only thing that moved during your orthodontic treatment. Ligaments attach the roots of the teeth to the jaw bone. During the time you wore braces (or aligners), the ligaments and jaw bones were affected, too. New ligaments were formed as well as new bone and it takes time for them to stabilize. A retainer firmly holds everything in their new positions. This is true no matter what kind of orthodontic treatment you had. Retainers after Invisalign are just as critical as after traditional metal braces.

Your retainer is molded and created specifically for your mouth. An impression is made of your new alignment and when the retainer is first inserted, it may feel uncomfortable. However, it’s no different than the discomfort you may have had when your braces were tightened or you put in a new aligner tray.

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It’s critical to your new smile that you wear the retainer as directed, though, so your teeth don’t begin to shift back. By wearing your retainer as your orthodontist directs, you’ll keep your teeth in their new alignment and stabilize your new bite. If you don’t wear it as instructed and some time has passed, don’t force the retainer into place on your teeth. This can harm the teeth or break the retainer.

In most cases, the monetary investment you made in your new, straight smile is significant. Protecting that investment as well as the time committed to the process is another reason to use a retainer. 


How Long Do You Have To Wear Retainers for Your Teeth?

The length of time you will need to use your retainer for your teeth varies from person to person. Consistent use during the first few months is critical because the gums and bones around your teeth are stabilizing. The retainer provides the proper amount of support to accomplish that goal.

Your orthodontist will guide you in this but the minimum amount of time to use the retainer full-time is usually one year. The retainer is removed only when you clean it and when you eat. (With a fixed retainer, it stays in your mouth all the time.)

If your teeth stay in place, your need for the retainer will be cut back until you are wearing it at night only. At this point, you would include it in your nightly oral hygiene routine to protect your investment in time and money to achieve your new smile.


Types of Retainers

Your orthodontist will evaluate your teeth and your preferences in order to recommend the best type of retainer for you. There are two main types of retainers to consider:

Removable Retainers

As the name implies, removable retainers can easily be taken out of the mouth and are removed when you eat and brush/floss your teeth, which makes it easier to keep your teeth clean. One type of removable retainer that is growing in popularity are Essix retainers (or Tru-Tain retainers). These retainers look a lot like an Invisalign clear aligner and fit over your teeth to hold them in position.

For removable retainers, it’s essential to protect it when it isn’t in your mouth. If it is broken or lost, you will have to pay to replace it, adding to the overall cost of your orthodontic care.


Fixed Retainers

Fixed retainers are exactly that: They are bonded into place behind your upper or lower front teeth with a thin wire positioned across the teeth. Fixed retainers make it harder to keep your teeth clean, so many patients and orthodontists prefer to use removable retainers. 


Caring For Your Retainer

Retainer care is a critical part of keeping your teeth straight and healthy. Here are some tips on how to clean, store, and wear your retainer properly:

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Keep It Clean

If your retainer is a fixed retainer, follow the same cleaning procedure you used with your braces. Consider using a Waterpik at home and flossing carefully between the teeth to remove stuck food particles and keep the retainer clean.

For a removable retainer, rinse it in cold water before and after you use it and wash it every two to three months with a cleaner made specifically for retainers. When the retainer isn’t in your mouth, you can soak it with distilled water and denture cleaning tablets or a mixture of baking soda and distilled water. Then, carefully brush the retainer with toothpaste. Don’t let it dry out. Your retainer should mainly be either in your mouth or soaking.


Store It Properly

Keep your retainer in its plastic case when you’re not using it. Make it a habit to store it in its case to prevent loss and damage.


Keep It Out of Hot Water

Hot water will cause your retainer to shrink and/or warp, making it useless.


Keep It Away From Pets

One of the leading causes of damaged retainers is pets. Store the retainer properly and this won’t happen.

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Protect Your Smile After Orthodontic Treatment With Retainers

A retainer is a crucial part of the treatment plan of using braces or other orthodontic appliances to straighten teeth. Without it, your newly formed smile can easily slip back and your investment in time and money will be wasted. Make sure to follow your orthodontist’s instructions for wearing your retainer and how to care for it.

By working with our team here at Swiatek Orthodontics, you can be confident that you will get the best in orthodontic treatment, as well as the knowledge and guidance to maintain a smile you are proud of for life.

If you have any other questions about retainers or anything else orthodontics-related, don’t hesitate to contact us. We are here to help!