Whether you’re wearing braces or clear aligners, there’s a lot of time, dedication, and effort that goes into straightening your smile. That’s just one reason why it’s so exciting to complete your orthodontic treatment! Your last day of treatment is a time for celebrating and sharing your beautiful new smile with the world, but it’s also important to remember that this isn’t the end of your orthodontic journey. The next step is every bit as essential in maintaining the long-lasting results you love!
Once your braces come off or you use your last aligner, it’s necessary to round out the process with regular retainer use. Here at Mahlmann & Borders Orthodontics, you’ll hear us talk about how retainers are a key part of keeping your teeth in their newly straightened positions. To understand why using a retainer plays a major role in your overall orthodontic success, keep reading below.
A retainer is an orthodontic appliance molded and designed to fit your mouth after braces. After taking an impression of your newly straightened teeth, we’ll create your customized retainer using either a clear plastic material (for an Essix retainer) or wire and an acrylic material (for a Hawley retainer).
Modern orthodontic knowledge (and years of research) tells us that wearing some type of retainer part-time for the rest of your life is the only sure way to keep your teeth aligned after treatment. While this may sound a little overwhelming at first, your retainer will become just another part of your daily routine before you know it!
Although your retainer may feel weird at first and can sometimes affect your speech temporarily, any discomfort won’t last long. Don’t let it deter you from wearing the retainer as recommended by Dr. Lee Mahlmann or Dr. Catharine Borders! If you don’t wear your retainer, it can’t do its job, and your teeth will shift, eventually leaving you right back where you started.
Types of retainers
There are two different types of retainers in our Richmond office: fixed and removable. There are several factors your orthodontist will consider before deciding which kind would best fit you and your lifestyle. These include the specifics of your case, your preferences, and the overall compliance expected.
A fixed retainer usually consists of a thin wire positioned across the interior surface of the lower or upper front teeth. We’ll bond this wire into place with glue similar to the one used to attach braces to teeth. Although this type of retainer can take a little more work to keep clean, it often has the best outcome overall. This is because the bonded wire can hold the newly straightened teeth in an ideal alignment over a long period.
There are a couple of different types of removable retainers. The Hawley retainer is made up of a wire going across the front teeth and held in place with an acrylic material and clasps. The clasps wrap around the back teeth to keep the retainer in place. Many orthodontists are moving away from this more traditional retainer, but it can still be useful in some cases.
The other type of removable retainer looks very similar to Invisalign aligners. Essix retainers have been gaining popularity with orthodontists and patients recently for many reasons. They are made of a transparent plastic material that looks and feels similar to the trays used in clear aligner therapy, and each one is molded to the unique shape of your mouth. This makes them much less noticeable—and oftentimes more comfortable —than traditional wire retainers.
Cleaning your teeth is easier with these removable retainers, but you have to remember to wear them daily. As you begin this final part of treatment, you’ll wear your retainer all day and night for about three months. At the end of this period, we’ll assess your teeth, and if no movement is detected, you may be able to wear the retainer less often.
It’s easier to lose or damage removable retainers, so be careful with them. It’s common for dogs to think they are a new toy, so keep them out of reach from pets! There may be a charge to replace a lost, broken, or chewed-on retainer, so keep them in a safe place when they aren’t in your mouth.
So, why are retainers so important?
When the initial phase of treatment is complete, your teeth aren’t the only things we want to stay in place. The gums and bones in your mouth will need to align to these new positions, too. Because the soft and hard tissues surrounding the teeth can sometimes take a little longer to align to the new position, wearing a retainer regularly can help achieve this goal, further stabilizing your new bite.
To put it more simply, each tooth is held in its socket by elastic ligaments that attach the roots to the bone. These ligaments are living tissue that is affected by the movement of the teeth, and this attachment allows for the small movements of the teeth during treatment. When tension is placed on and around the teeth using an orthodontic appliance like braces or Invisalign, new ligaments (and sometimes even bone) are formed.
Once the remodeling phase, or the first phase of treatment, is complete, those same tissues, ligaments, and bones will need time to stabilize. Without a retainer to help hold these new positions as they stabilize, the teeth almost always migrate back to their old positions. It can take several months to a few years for the new position of your teeth to become more permanent.
Maintain your smile with retainers from Mahlmann & Borders Orthodontics
Do you find yourself daydreaming about the day your braces come off? Are you currently counting down to your last clear aligner? Whatever your orthodontic needs, Mahlmann & Borders Orthodontics is here for you! We’re happy to help with all your questions and concerns. For more information on the role retainers play after orthodontic treatment, contact us today. Dr. Mahlmann, Dr. Borders, and the rest of our talented team will keep your teeth in place and put a smile on your face!