Here at Laidlaw Orthodontics, we know how much hard work goes into straightening your smile! Now that the active phase of treatment is drawing to a close, it’s exciting to imagine a life without braces or clear aligners. There’s still one more phase to go, however—retention. This second treatment step will round out the whole process and help you maintain your beautifully straight smile. Retainers are an essential part of your orthodontic journey, and wearing them as directed plays a crucial role in keeping your teeth in their new positions. Let’s take a closer look at how they work and why they’re so important!
What is a retainer?
A retainer is a customized orthodontic appliance that is molded and designed to fit each patient’s mouth. Once your treatment is complete, we’ll take an impression of your newly straightened teeth. A retainer will be created for you based on that impression. Even though the retainer is designed for your specific smile, it can feel a little weird when you first put it in. It may even affect your speech temporarily. This will resolve on its own, but in the meantime, it’s important to continue wearing your retainer even if there’s a bit of initial discomfort.
In the first year post-treatment, your teeth can begin shifting back towards their original positions in just a matter of days if there’s nothing to keep them in place. If you don’t wear your retainer as directed by Dr. Laidlaw, you could undo all your hard-earned progress and end up right back where you started. Nobody wants to see that happen!
The most recent orthodontic wisdom suggests that, for the best results, some type of retainer will need to be worn indefinitely after treatment, at least part-time. This can sound scary at first, but wearing a retainer will quickly become just another part of your daily routine. After a while, you’ll likely only need to wear it for a few nights each week to keep the teeth in place.
How do retainers work?
After orthodontic treatment, we need your teeth to stay in their new positions, but the gums and bones will need to align to these positions, too. The soft and hard tissues surrounding the teeth can sometimes take longer to align to a different position. Wearing your retainer as directed will help the gums and bones to realign and assist in stabilizing your new bite.
Think about it this way—teeth aren’t fixed in the jaw like posts surrounded by concrete. Each tooth is held in a socket by elastic ligaments that attach the roots to the bone. These ligaments are living tissue affected by tooth movements, and their attachment allows for small movements of the teeth during treatment. When tension is placed in and around the teeth by braces or aligners, new ligaments and bone are formed.
This is known as the remodeling phase. Once it’s been completed, the tissues, ligaments, and bone need time to stabilize. Without the retainer to help hold them in these new positions as they stabilize, the teeth start moving back towards their old positions. Over time, these changes become more permanent, but retainers remain an essential tool in keeping everything stable.
What are the different types of retainers?
There are two types of retainers: fixed and removable. When deciding which type is best for you, Dr. Laidlaw will consider your specific needs, your preference, and the level of compliance that’s expected.
Fixed retainers are also referred to as permanent or bonded retainers. They consist of a thin wire that’s bonded behind the bottom and top teeth. Once treatment is complete, a fixed retainer can be used to keep it that way!
If you have a fixed retainer, you’ll need to brush and floss carefully to ensure it stays clean. Since the wire stretches across several teeth, dental hygiene is similar to what a patient in braces experiences. The bonded wire holds your teeth in the ideal alignment over a long time, so fixed retainers often have excellent and lasting outcomes. You won’t ever have to remember to wear them, either, which can be an added benefit (especially if you’re prone to losing things.)
There are a couple of different options available when it comes to removable retainers. The Hawley and Essix models are both custom-designed to fit your mouth for the best results.
Hawley retainers are one of the oldest types of retainers. They’re probably the ones 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. While many orthodontists are moving away from using Hawley retainers, they can still be helpful in some instances.
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 manageable with removable retainers, but you will have to remember to wear them daily. They can be pretty easy to misplace or damage, so you’ll also need to be mindful of where it is at all times and be careful when handling it. Keep this motto in mind: if it’s not in your face, it’s in your case!
Continuing orthodontic care with Laidlaw Orthodontics
Whether you’re only contemplating life without braces or just need a refresher on the importance of retainers, our expert team is here to help. We’re committed to meeting your orthodontic needs through every phase of treatment! If you’re looking for more information on the role retainers play after orthodontic treatment, get in touch! We’ll be happy to answer any questions or concerns you may have.