Straightening your smile is an investment of your time and finances. There’s a lot of hard work that goes into successfully finishing orthodontic treatment, so when the end is in sight, it’s something to celebrate! It’s worth remembering, however, that a second phase of treatment follows the active phase. This is a necessary part of the orthodontic process that helps maintain your new smile once your braces come off or your last set of aligners is complete.
If you’re a patient here at Stacy Wolf Orthodontics, you’ve probably heard us talk about the importance of retainers. Wearing one regularly is the best tool we have for keeping your teeth in place after active treatment is complete, but what are retainers. anyway? How do they work? Keep reading to learn more!
What is a retainer?
In the simplest terms, a retainer is an orthodontic appliance that’s customized to fit each patient’s mouth. Once you complete the initial remodeling phase of treatment, we’ll make an impression of your newly straightened teeth and use this mold to create the retainer. It may be made from a clear plastic material or wire and acrylic, but we’ll talk a bit more about the different types of retainers below.
Why are retainers a necessary part of treatment?
Without regular use of a retainer, a phenomenon known as “relapse” may occur. This typically happens in the late teens and early twenties, but can be an issue at any age. It describes the natural tendency of the teeth to drift back to their original positions after orthodontic treatment. Retainers are the key to preventing this, as they place pressure on your teeth to hold them in their new positions and keep any natural drifting at bay.
Just like braces and aligners, retainers will come with a bit of a learning curve but you’ll get used to them in no time! While there may be some slight discomfort initially, it’s important to continue wearing your retainer as directed by Dr. Wolf. Failure to do so may cause your teeth to eventually move back to their old positions, undoing all your hard-earned progress.
What are the different types of retainers?
There are two types of retainers, fixed and removable. When determining which is best for you, Dr. Wolf will take your unique smile and preferences into consideration. She will also base her recommendation on the expected level of compliance from you.
A fixed retainer consists of a thin wire that’s been positioned across the interior surface of the lower or upper front teeth. This wire is then bonded into place with glue. Because this wire stretches across several teeth, dental care will often require a little extra effort, similar to wearing braces, and you still have to refrain from biting into any hard foods. Additionally, it is important to remember that a fixed retainer is not a retainer without responsibility! Dr. Wolf will still ask you to wear a removable retainer at night to prevent any unwanted tooth movement and as a backup in case the wire breaks.
We have a couple of options available when it comes to removable retainers. The Hawley retainer is made of a wire and acrylic material, while the Essix retainer is composed of a clear plastic material similar to the one used with Invisalign aligners. Both are custom-made to fit your mouth following orthodontic treatment and have their own list of pros and cons to consider.
Hawley retainers are kept in place by a wire that wraps around the teeth, then combines with an acrylic arch that rests against the roof of the mouth. If needed, the stainless steel wires can be adjusted at any time to achieve minor movement of the front teeth.
Although many orthodontists are currently moving away from this more traditional retainer, it can still be very useful in some cases! If you’re given a Hawley retainer, you should stick to the following guidelines when caring for it to keep it in good shape.
- Clean the retainer daily to remove any bacteria and food debris.
- Always keep the retainer away from heat or hot water.
- Always store the retainer in its case when you’re not wearing it.
Hawley retainers can be gently brushed once a day using a soft-bristled toothbrush and antibacterial soap, like dishwashing liquid. They can also be soaked in denture cleaner a few times per week to freshen the retainer up and kill any germs hiding in the grooves.
Essix retainers have been growing in popularity with both orthodontists and patients in the last several years! They’re made of a transparent plastic material that looks and feels similar to the trays we use with Invisalign treatment. This retainer will be molded to the unique shape of your mouth and is much less noticeable than traditional wire retainers tend to be.
When cared for properly, an Essix retainer will often last for as long as you need it. To get the best results from this retainer, you should always:
- rinse the retainer in cold water each time you take it out, and before you put it back in
- store the retainer in a plastic case whenever you’re not wearing it
- brush the retainer after each meal, using a soft toothbrush with cool water
- avoid placing the retainer in hot water, since the heat can shrink it
- wash the retainer with a specialized cleaner once every few months
Both types of removable retainer offer you more flexibility than a fixed retainer would. They also make it easier to keep your teeth and gums clean. You will have to remember to wear your removable retainer based on Dr. Wolf’s instructions, though, otherwise it won’t be effective! You’ll also need to be careful when handling your retainer in order to avoid misplacing or damaging it.
Keep your smile in place with Stacy Wolf Orthodontics
Most orthodontic experts now agree that some type of retainer should be worn part-time indefinitely for the best results. Don’t let that worry you! With a little patience, your retainer will quickly become just one more part of your daily routine. In some special cases, we may also decide to use both permanent and removable retainers together to ensure no relapses occur. Rest assured, though, that we’ll always discuss our plans with you first if we feel something like this would be a good fit for your smile.
Stacy Wolf Orthodontics is committed to finding the perfect treatment for you and your smile, including the retainer that will serve you best. Our goal is to provide high-quality care through every phase of treatment, and our expert team works hard to give you the best orthodontic experience possible. Wherever you are in the treatment process, we’re here to answer your questions and discuss your concerns, so get in touch if you’d like to learn more about our retainers. It’s our job to keep your teeth in place and a happy smile on your face!