In an ideal world, we could snap our fingers and have the perfect smile. But here in the real world, there’s a lot that goes into achieving straighter teeth and improved oral health! Now that you’re nearing the end of your orthodontic journey, all your hard work is about to pay off in a beautifully aligned smile. We’re almost as excited as you are to see the final results! There’s still a second phase of treatment to come, though, and it’s just as important as the first—retention.
The retention phase rounds out the whole treatment process once your braces have been removed or you’ve used your last aligner. Dr. Moon will tell you everything you need to know about wearing and caring for your customized retainer when the time comes. In the meantime, let’s take a look at what retainers are, how they work, and why they’re the key to long-lasting results. Keep reading below to learn more!
What do retainers do? Why are they so important?
A retainer is an orthodontic appliance we use to keep your newly straightened teeth in place once the active phase of treatment is complete. In the first stage, braces or clear aligners apply gentle but continuous pressure to your teeth to move them into the desired positions. However, once that pressure is removed, the teeth can quickly begin shifting back to their previous positions. This is where your retainer comes in! When worn as directed by Dr. Moon, they will hold your teeth in place so you can enjoy your newly aligned smile for many years to come.
Our teeth are incredibly stubborn, and it requires an enormous amount of pressure to move them into the optimal positions. This is what’s happening during the active phase of treatment as the gums grow around the teeth in support. That pressure can’t be placed on your teeth indefinitely, though, so we will relieve it at a specified time by removing your braces or giving you your last set of aligners.
Following this, your mouth will need an unspecified amount of time to grow enough support to keep the teeth in their new places. That means more pressure! But this time, we won’t need to use nearly as much as we did to straighten your teeth. If we don’t add pressure in the form of retainers, your teeth will begin to drift apart, undoing all your hard work.
The pressure that orthodontic appliances put on your teeth means they can’t adjust and heal in place during treatment. Removing that level of pressure allows them to heal fully, while retainers make sure the teeth are where they need to be for that process to happen. Regular retainer use also allows your teeth to settle in their new positions permanently.
How long do retainers need to be worn once treatment is complete?
Most retainers will need to be worn continuously for a certain number of hours to keep the teeth in place. We’ll often recommend wearing your retainer overnight since you’re likely to be sleeping for several hours at a time, but we may recommend wearing your retainer during the day in some cases, as well. While current orthodontic wisdom tells us that most patients will need to wear some type of retainer indefinitely for the best results, don’t worry! Your retainer will become just another part of your daily routine before you know it.
What types of retainers are available?
Modern technology means we can offer our patients fixed orthodontic appliances like braces and removable appliances like Invisalign clear aligners. We have the same flexibility when it comes to retainers! Here’s a look at the different types of retainers that are available.
Fixed retainers generally consist of a thin wire bonded behind the bottom or top teeth, or sometimes both. These can be a beneficial option for patients who have (or have had) a large space between the two upper front teeth. Once treatment is complete and the space is completely closed, a fixed retainer can keep it that way.
Since the wire stretches across several teeth, dental hygiene is similar to that of a braces patient. If you have a fixed retainer, you’ll need to be especially careful with brushing and flossing to ensure it stays clean. Because the bonded wire holds your newly straightened teeth in the ideal alignment over a long time, fixed retainers often have excellent outcomes—and the best part is, you never have to remember to wear them!
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 for the best results. 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. 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. While many orthodontists are moving away from using Hawley retainers, they can still be helpful in certain cases.
Essix retainers look very similar to the clear aligners used with the Invisalign system. They’re made entirely of transparent plastic and molded to the unique shape of the patient’s mouth. Essix retainers 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 more straightforward with removable retainers, but you will have to remember to wear them daily. They can also be pretty easy to misplace or damage, so you’ll need to be mindful of where it is at all times and be careful when handling it.
Caring for your retainer
Although most retainers are slightly different, they all tend to have similar instructions for care. All retainers come with a case to keep them in when not in use. You’ll need to brush your retainer daily to keep it clean, and you may be instructed to avoid certain drinks when you’re wearing it. If you have a removable retainer, you should always remove it before eating. If you take good care of your retainer and follow Dr. Moon’s instructions, it should last for many years!
Keep your smile looking its best with Moon Orthodontics
You’d be surprised by how quickly your teeth can begin shifting back to their old positions. In the first year after treatment, it can happen in as little as a few days! Without regular use of a retainer, this drifting will continue. Fortunately, the solution to this is simple: all you have to do is wear your retainer exactly as directed by Dr. Moon!
The expert team here at Moon Orthodontics is committed to finding exactly the right orthodontic treatment for you, and that includes the type of retainer that will be the best fit for your smile. If you have questions about retainers or the retention phase, get in touch with us today! We’ll be happy to walk you through any concerns you have. Our goal is to give you a straight and healthy smile that you’ll be able to enjoy for many years to come!