Orthodontics is an investment of your time and finances, so when it’s time to reveal your brand new smile, it’s something to celebrate! As exciting as it is, however, it’s important to remember you’ve only completed the first step of your orthodontic journey. Once your braces are off or your last set of aligners are complete, we need to round out the treatment process with regular use of a retainer. This is the second phase of treatment, and it’s just as essential as the first at giving you long-lasting results you’ll love. Because of that, we’re taking a look at everything you need to know about retainers!
If you’ve been a patient here at Sturgill Orthodontics, it’s likely you’ve heard us talk about why retainers are an essential part of any successful treatment plan. In fact, responsible retainer use is the best way to keep your smile straight once active treatment is complete. To understand more about how retainers help your teeth stay in their new positions over time, keep reading below!
Getting back to the basics: what is a retainer, anyway?
Like braces and aligners, a retainer is one type of orthodontic appliance. Using an impression of your newly straightened teeth, we’ll create a custom-designed retainer for you to use after the remodeling phase of treatment. Retainers can be made from a clear plastic material or using wire and an acrylic material. These appliances are critical in preventing a phenomenon known as “relapse,” which describes the natural tendency of the teeth to drift back to their original positions even after orthodontic treatment is complete.
Relapse occurs most often in your late teens and early twenties, but it can happen at any time. Your teeth will always remember their original place in your mouth—once the pressure that braces and aligners provide has been removed, they’ll start shifting back towards those spaces. This is why it’s so important to wear your retainer exactly as directed by our doctors! If you don’t, it won’t be able to do its job and all your progress will be undone over time. This can happen faster than you’d think, so be sure to stick to the guidelines you’re given.
What are the different types of retainers?
There are two types of retainers, fixed and removable. When determining which style is the best for your smile, our doctors will look at your specific needs, your preference, and the level of compliance expected.
A fixed retainer consists of a thin wire that’s been positioned across the interior surface of the lower or upper front teeth, then bonded into place with glue. This wire stretches across several teeth, so good dental hygiene will require a little extra effort, particularly when it comes to flossing. It does tend to have the best outcome overall, however— the bonded wire does an amazing job at keeping newly straightened teeth in place. Bonus: you never have to remember to wear it or worry about losing it!
We have a couple of options available when it comes to removable retainers. The Hawley retainer is made of a wire and acrylic material, and the Essix retainer is composed of a clear plastic material similar to the kind used with Invisalign aligners. Both styles are custom-made to fit your mouth following the first phase of orthodontic treatment.
Hawley retainers are one of the oldest types of retainers. They’re kept in place by a wire that wraps around the teeth, then combines with an acrylic arch that rests against the roof of the mouth. The stainless steel wires can continue to be adjusted to achieve minor movement of the front teeth if needed. While many orthodontists are currently moving away from this more traditional retainer, it can still be very useful in some cases. If you’re given a Hawley retainer, you should follow these recommendations to ensure it’s being properly cared for.
- Gently brush the retainer with a soft toothbrush and toothpaste. Do this daily to remove any food debris and bacteria.
- Soak the retainer in a denture cleaner a few times per week to help kill germs and freshen it up.
- Keep your retainer away from heat or hot water to protect the shape.
- Store it in its case when you are not wearing it.
Essix retainers have been growing in popularity with both orthodontists and patients in the last few years. They are made of a transparent plastic material, and look similar to the trays that are used with the Invisalign system. An Essix retainer will be molded to the unique shape of your mouth and is much less noticeable than a traditional wire retainer. It should also last as long as you need it, provided you take good care of it. That includes:
- rinsing the retainer in cold water each time you take it out
- rinsing the retainer before you put it back in your mouth
- storing the retainer in a plastic case whenever you’re not wearing it
- gently brushing the retainer after each meal, using a soft toothbrush
- only using cool or lukewarm water on the retainer
- never placing the retainer in hot water or near a heated surface
- washing the retainer with a specialized cleaner once every few months
It’s incredibly easy to keep your teeth and gums clean with either of these removable retainers! They make dental hygiene simple, but unlike a fixed retainer, you will have to remember to wear them exactly as directed by your orthodontist. To avoid misplacing or damaging your retainer, be careful when handling it and be mindful of where it is at all times.
Keep things straight with a retainer from Sturgill Orthodontics
Orthodontic experts now believe that most patients will need to wear some type of retainer part-time indefinitely. This is the best way to achieve a lifetime of beautiful smiles! Don’t be worried by that recommendation—you’ll get used to your retainer in no time and won’t even notice it after a while. Most of the time, you’ll only receive one type of retainer, but some cases may respond better to permanent and removable retainers being used together. If our doctors think this would be a good fit for your smile, they’ll walk you through their reasons and the expected outcome.
We make it even easier to keep your smile straight here at Sturgill Orthodontics! We have a full-time in-house lab technician, so all of our retainers are made right here in the office instead of being outsourced. That means you’ll get your retainer faster, and we can repair any issues you have with it immediately instead of having you return for multiple appointments.
Our team is committed to finding exactly the right orthodontic treatment for your unique smile. This includes finding the type of retainer that will best meet your needs! From your very first visit to our Johnson City or Norton office, our talented team will meet your orthodontic needs through every phase of treatment. Wherever you are in the treatment process, our goal is to provide customized care and world-class service. Have questions or concerns about your treatment plan or retainer use? Get in touch! We’re here to help keep your teeth in place and a smile on your face!