Many who seek orthodontic treatment are under the impression that once the braces come off they can say goodbye to their orthodontist forever. But, the reality is that straightening teeth with braces or Invisalign® is only part of the story; once the teeth have been aligned, retention (wearing a retainer) is necessary to lock the teeth into their new position.
To help you learn more about the retention phase of your orthodontic treatment, we’ve provided some answers to frequently asked questions about the process, including why retention is needed, how long a retainer is worn, and how to care for your retainer.
What is a retainer?
A retainer is a small orthodontic appliance that is custom made for each patient. Retainers are usually made of plastic and metal (see photo at top of post), but clear plastic aligners (similar to Invisalign®) are also available. Retainers can be permanent or removable; your orthodontist will recommend which type of retainer is appropriate for your situation.
Why do I need to wear a retainer?
The most common use of retainers is to keep teeth in place once they’ve been aligned with braces or Invisalign® while the surrounding bone and tissue adapt to the change.
Retainers can also be used in lieu of braces when only minor adjustments are needed, such as the closing of a gap or the movement of a single tooth.
How long do I wear my retainer?
Retainer wear is typically graduated, meaning you will need to wear your retainer constantly (except during eating and oral hygiene) for the first several months after your braces are removed, but thereafter you will only have to wear it when you sleep. Retainer wear can continue to taper off over time, but it is important to keep in mind that teeth are never fully cemented in place; they move and shift with age and changing oral health conditions, so it is a good idea to make friends with your retainer and plan to keep it in your life for years to come.
How do I care for my retainer?
Caring for your retainer is easy and will quickly become a normal part of your oral hygiene routine. If you wear a permanent retainer, brushing and flossing as usual is enough to keep it clean. For removable Hawley retainers, you can brush them with a toothbrush and toothpaste when you brush your teeth. If using the clear plastic type of retainer, disinfecting with a denture cleaner is best as it can become scratched with brushing.
If you already have had braces and are now in the retention phase, it is crucial to follow your orthodontist’s instructions for wear to ensure your teeth remain in their new position.