There’s a lot of time and effort that goes into orthodontic treatment. Whether you’ve spent years in braces, or have been sporting Invisalign aligners for a few months to boost your smile, it’s exciting when you’re finally free of them! But don’t get too carried away with celebrating just yet. This is only the first step of orthodontic treatment, and the one that that comes next is just as important. After your teeth have been straightened, regular retainer use is the second step of treatment, and it’s necessary to round out the process and help maintain your beautiful new smile.


Here at Sawgrass Orthodontics, our patients will hear us talk a lot about why retainers are an integral part of keeping the teeth in their new and improved positions. In order to help you understand why retainer use is so essential to preventing your teeth from drifting back into their old placements, we’ve put together this helpful guide on why this second phase of orthodontic treatment is so important. Keep reading to find out more


What exactly is a retainer?


A retainer is an orthodontic appliance that is molded and designed to fit each individual patient’s mouth. We will normally make these by taking an impression of your newly straightened teeth, then creating the retainer with a clear plastic material (for an Essix retainer) or from wire and an acrylic material (for a Hawley retainer).


Most orthodontists now recommend that some type of retainer be worn part-time for the rest of your life after the teeth have been straightened. It sounds overwhelming at first, we know! But with a little patience and practice, your retainer will become a part of your daily routine before you know it. Eventually, wearing it a few nights a week while you’re sleeping will be all you need to keep your teeth in the desired positions permanently.


Your retainer may feel a little strange at first, and it can sometimes affect your speech temporarily. Any initial discomfort shouldn’t last long, so don’t let it deter you from wearing the retainer as recommended. Failing to do so can keep it from doing its job, which means your teeth could begin shifting back over time, leaving you right back where you started.


The types of retainers


There are two different types of retainers: fixed and removable. We take several factors into consideration before deciding which kind would best fit you and your lifestyle, including your specific case, your preferences, and the overall compliance expected.


Fixed retainers

A fixed retainer usually consists of a thin wire positioned across the interior surface of the lower or upper front teeth. This is then bonded into place with a glue similar to the one used to attach braces to teeth. The wire will stretch across several teeth, so dental care is similar to the way it was if you were in braces, particularly when it comes to flossing, so don’t toss your floss threader just yet if a fixed retainer is a possibility!


Although a fixed retainer can take a little more work to keep clean, it does tends to have the best outcome overall. This is because the bonded wire is able to hold the newly straightened teeth in a more ideal alignment over a long period of time.


Removable retainers

Removable retainers are made up of a wire going across the front teeth, held in place with an acrylic material and clasps. The clasps wrap around the back teeth to keep the retainer stationary. This can also be referred to as a Hawley retainer, and it’s probably the most recognizable retainer. There’s another type of removable retainer that looks very similar to an Invisalign aligner, which is often called an Essix retainer.


Cleaning your teeth is easier with these retainers, but you will have to remember to wear it daily. At the beginning of this second step of treatment, it’s likely that you’ll need to wear it all day and all night for at least three months. At the end of this period, your teeth will be assessed. If no movement is detected, then you may be able to wear the retainer less often, like only at night, or for a few hours during the day.


These retainers do tend to be more prone to loss and damage, so be careful with them. We’ve had more than one patient leave a retainer out only to find the family dog thought it was a new chew toy! There’s usually a charge to replace a lost of broken (or chewed on) retainer, so keep them in a safe place when they are not in your mouth.


Gum and bone alignment


Your teeth aren’t the only things we want to stay put after your braces come off or your last aligner is used. The gums and bones in your mouth will need to align to these new positions, too. The soft and hard tissues surrounding the teeth can sometimes take a little longer to align to a different position, but by wearing your retainer as directed, you can help the gums and bones to realign, stabilizing your new bite.


Sound confusing or complicated? Essentially, teeth aren’t just fixed in the jaw. Each one is held in its socket by elastic ligaments that attach the roots to the bone. These ligaments are living tissue that are affected by the movement of the teeth. It’s actually this attachment that allows for the small movements of the teeth during treatment. When tension is placed in and around the teeth via braces or Invisalign, new ligaments, and sometimes even bone, are formed.


Once the remodeling phase, or the first phase of treatment, has been completed, those tissues, ligaments, and bone will need time to stabilize. Without the help of a retainer to hold these new positions as they stabilize, the teeth will almost always migrate back to their old positions. It can take anywhere from several months to a few years for the new position of your teeth to become more permanent


From braces to retainers and beyond with Sawgrass Orthodontics


Are you daydreaming in the Davie or Weston area about the day your braces come off? Are you in Plantation or Cooper City planning on how to celebrate when you toss out your last Invisalign aligner? Or are you in Sunrise simply needing a refresher course on the importance of retainers? Sawgrass Orthodontics is here and happy to help with all your questions and concerns! For more information on the role retainers play after orthodontic treatment, get in touch with us today and let Dr. Kristen, Dr. Penny, and our dedicated team help keep your teeth in place and a smile on your face!

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