Why Do I Need to Wear a Retainer?

Straightening your smile is a big investment of your time and effort, so it makes sense that you’d want to do everything you can to keep your teeth healthy during treatment. But the work doesn’t stop when your braces come off, or you wear your last aligner. Maintaining your new alignment is a lifelong commitment, but don’t let that intimidate you. 

Our team at Rio Grande Orthodontics is here to help make maintaining a healthy smile second nature. But you may wonder, “Why do I need to wear a retainer? Won’t my smile stay straight after braces?” To understand why using a retainer plays a major role in your overall orthodontic success, keep reading below. 

All about retainers

A retainer is an orthodontic tool custom-made for your new smile. After treatment, we’ll take a mold of your teeth to create a retainer using either a clear plastic material (for an Essix retainer) or wire and an acrylic material (for a Hawley retainer). 

Modern orthodontic knowledge tells us that wearing some type of retainer part-time for the rest of your life is the only way to keep your teeth in place 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 your Rio Grande orthodontist. If you don’t wear your retainer as directed, it can’t work effectively, and your teeth will shift, eventually leaving you with a crooked smile once again. 

Types of retainers

We offer two primary types of retainers at Rio Grande Orthodontics: fixed and removable. There are several factors your orthodontist will consider before deciding which kind is the best fit for your smile. These include the specifics of your case, your preferences, and the overall compliance expected. 

Fixed retainers

A fixed retainer consists of a thin wire across the inner surface of the lower or upper front teeth. We’ll bond this wire into place with glue similar to the kind we use to attach braces to teeth. Although this type of retainer can take a little more effort to keep clean, it often has the best results. This is because the bonded wire can hold the newly straightened teeth in an ideal alignment over a long period.

Removable retainers

There are a couple of different types of removable retainers. The Hawley retainer is made up of a wire going across the front teeth that is 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 clear aligners. Essix retainers have been gaining popularity 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 removable retainers, but you have to remember to wear them daily. For the 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 there has been no movement, you can likely 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.

Simply put, 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 clear aligners, 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.

Why Do I Need to Wear a Retainer?Maintain your smile with retainers from Rio Grande 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, Rio Grande 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. Drs. Gardiner, Bunker, Vest, Klinger, and Kellam will keep your teeth in place and put a smile on your face!