The Importance of Retainers After Braces

The day you finally get your braces off is a big day! You get to enjoy some foods you haven’t eaten in quite a while, and you will get to show off your beautiful new smile! While it can be exciting, you do need to remember that just because your braces have come off, your treatment isn’t completely finished quite yet.  

It was commonly thought that once someone had his or her braces taken off, their teeth would be straight forever. However, in the last few decades, it’s been shown there isn’t just one way to move teeth to ensure a lasting result. Most times as we age, our teeth move to accommodate whatever might happen during our lifetimes, regardless of orthodontic care. You must make a significant commitment to keeping them straight.

This is the reason why we at Bret Johnson Orthodontics stress just how important it is to wear a retainer once your braces are removed consistently. By just wearing a retainer, you can keep your teeth from moving as you age.

Teeth move two different ways after orthodontic treatment, so it’s important to understand the way your teeth can change.

Two types of post-treatment movement

Old habits die hard, and that is the same for your teeth as it is anything in life. After completing your orthodontic treatment, your teeth will naturally want to move back to their post-treatment positions. It’s simply because your gums and bones have “memories” of your teeth and they will want to push your teeth back into these remembered positions. While this fades over time, it can pose an issue up to 18 months post-treatment.

“Uprighting” is another type of movement that happens at a much slower pace, but its changes are long-lasting. This is when the front teeth move upright on the lower jaw. This occurs with age but becomes more than cosmetic and problematic as the teeth are crowded closer and closer to the tongue.

While orthodontic treatment fixes crooked teeth initially, you still must work to maintain the results. Therefore, Dr. Bret stresses the need to consistently wear a retainer to ensure your teeth stay straight long-term.

What are retainers and how do they work?

A retainer is simply a plastic or metal device that keeps teeth aligned after a patient has completed orthodontic treatment with braces or Invisalign. To prevent teeth from moving back into their original positions, retainers are specially, custom-molded to a patient’s mouth after they have completed their treatment. Using pressure and guidance retainers keep teeth, or retain them, in their new, straight position.

Because we believe all our patients have unique needs, we customize a treatment plan for you. This plan not only includes the type of retainer that is best for you, but also the length of time which it will need to be used. Not every retainer is created equal; most retainers are removable, but some are permanently affixed behind your front teeth. We will determine which retainer is best for you using a series of factors like age and which treatment you received.  

There are two main types of removable retainers:

Beautiful smiling girl holding a Hawley and Essix retainerHawley retainers

Used primarily for upper teeth, Hawley retainers involve a plastic piece that is molded and rests against the roof of the mouth with an attached wire that surrounds the teeth in front of it.

Essix retainers

Essix retainers bear similarity to Invisalign aligners. They are totally transparent, fit over teeth, and are less noticeable to others than Hawley retainers.

Will I have to wear a retainer forever?

Thankfully, you won’t have to wear a retainer forever! While many factors play into the length of time you will need to wear your retainer; most people don’t have to wear a retainer 24/7 for too long. Now that said, most orthodontists recommend wearing your retainer for the first three to six months after treatment. Once your teeth have stabilized in their new position, you can just wear your retainer at night. You will do this for as little as one year, or as many as three years. After that, most orthodontists recommend wearing it for two or three nights per week indefinitely to maintain your hard-won, beautiful results.

If I don’t wear my retainer, what will happen?

Skipping a day here and there won’t hurt you, but consistently going without your retainer, especially during the critical first one to three years after treatment can cause problems. Teeth can migrate back into their former positions without the necessary pressure and guidance a retainer provides. Too much time away from your retainer, especially during your critical initial period, can reverse many of the results you worked so hard for in the first place. In short, lack of retainer use can cause prominently shifted teeth.  

What if my retainer doesn’t fit anymore?

Woman putting in retainerGo without wearing your retainer for too long and you may find it no longer fits since your teeth have already started shifting. If the misalignment is minimal, you may still be able to wear your retainer, even if it isn’t a snug fit. If you continually wear an ill-fitting retainer, however, you can potentially break the retainer. If you find your retainer isn’t fitting comfortably, contact us and we will be happy to fit you for a new one.

Every patient can expect to experience some movement when their braces are removed, however, wearing a retainer is the single best defense against this. We also want to remind you to be careful with your retainers – dogs love to chew on them, and they can often go missing or get thrown away on accident. Replacing lost or broken retainers can be expensive. Worried about keeping track of your appliance? Ask us about our Lifetime Retainer Program, exclusively offered at Bret Johnson Orthodontics. If you are in the Spokane or Colville area and need advice regarding your retainer, need to be fitted for a new one, or have other questions about how to have the healthiest and most beautiful smile you can, please contact us today at Bret Johnson Orthodontics.