Article by Dr. Leaver & Dr. Gardner
We heard that you’re getting your braces off soon—congratulations! We’re proud of you for sticking to your treatment plan and taking good care of your teeth throughout the orthodontic process! Now that you’re nearing the end of the active phase of treatment, you can look forward to a much easier, lower-effort passive phase of treatment called retention. Retention closes out your treatment process and plays an essential role in keeping your newly straightened smile in place. You may have heard Dr. Leaver or Dr. Gardner talk about how important retainers are, but you may not understand exactly why. Since retention revolves around the regular use of a retainer, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with this orthodontic appliance before you begin retention. Keep reading to learn everything you should know about retainers, including the basics of retention, the different types we offer, and how regular wear can give you long-lasting results!
WHY ARE RETAINERS SO IMPORTANT?
As we age, it’s not unusual for our teeth to slightly shift or settle in our mouth. Known as “relapse,” this phenomenon usually begins in your late teens or early twenties. It refers to the natural tendency of the teeth to drift back towards their original positions, something that can occur even after your orthodontic treatment has been completed. Retainers play a key role in preventing relapse—they hold your teeth in their new positions and keep natural drifting at bay.
This all occurs thanks to the fact that teeth are not attached directly to your jaw, but rather held in its socket by elastic ligaments that connect the roots to the bone. These ligaments are living tissues that are affected by the movement of the teeth, and it’s this attachment that allows for your teeth to move during treatment.
Orthodontic appliances like braces and aligners are used to place tension in and around the teeth, which facilitates the formation of new ligaments and sometimes bone. This is known as the remodeling phase of treatment. Once it is complete, the newly formed tissues, ligaments, and bone will need time to stabilize. As mentioned above, the retention phase follows. If there is nothing to hold the teeth in place during this phase, they will almost always migrate back to their old positions.
What does that mean for you? If you don’t wear your retainer as directed once your active phase of treatment is complete, your teeth will eventually start shifting back to their old positions and you’ll lose all your hard work. The good news is, avoiding relapse is easy! Keeping your teeth in place is as simple as wearing your retainer as directed by your orthodontist. They’ll choose the best type of retainer for you based on your unique needs, preferences, and expected compliance.
WHAT TYPES OF RETAINERS ARE AVAILABLE?
In the same way that we offer fixed appliances like braces and removable appliances like clear aligners, we also have fixed and removable retainers available to you. Removable retainers are further broken down into Hawley and Essix retainers. We’ll explore their features in a little more detail here.
When it comes to removable retainers, there are a couple of different options available. The Hawley and Essix models are both custom-designed to fit your mouth following treatment. When you complete the active phase of treatment, our team will take an impression of your teeth and use this to create your retainer.
Hawley retainers are one of the oldest types of retainers and the one you’d be most likely to recognize! They’re made of stainless steel and kept in place by wrapping a wire around your teeth. That wire has been combined with an acrylic arch that rests against the roof of your mouth, and it can be adjusted to continue minor movement of the front teeth if needed. Although many orthodontists are moving away from using this more traditional retainer, it can still be very useful in certain cases.
Essix retainers are made entirely of transparent plastic and look very similar to the clear aligners used with the Invisalign system. Each one is molded to the unique shape of the patient’s mouth and may cover the entire arch of the teeth or only go from canine to canine. This type of retainer is very subtle and should last as long as you need it, provided you care for it properly.
Cleaning your teeth is easier with either of these removable retainers, but you’ll have to remember to wear them daily. They can also be pretty easy to misplace or damage! If you’re given an Essix retainer, you’ll need to be mindful of where it is at all times and be careful when handling it.
ENJOY A LIFETIME OF SMILES FROM LEAVER & GARDNER ORTHODONTICS
In the first year after treatment, it can sometimes take only a few days for teeth to begin shifting back to their original positions. This process will continue if you don’t wear your retainer regularly! Modern orthodontic wisdom tells us that most patients will need to wear some type of retainer after their teeth have been straightened, but don’t worry! This will quickly become just another part of your daily routine before you know it.
At Leaver & Gardner Orthodontics, our expert team is committed to finding exactly the right orthodontic treatment for you. That includes the type of retainer that will serve you best! For more information about retention after orthodontic treatment, get in touch with us today to schedule a visit or a FREE consultation with Dr. Leaver and Dr. Gardner. We’re here to help you achieve a beautifully aligned smile that lasts a lifetime!