When you finish your braces or Invisalign®, there’s still one more step in your orthodontic treatment: wearing a retainer. It’s the only way to maintain your results for life. We promise when you see how fantastic your new smile looks, it won’t seem like a big deal at all. Today, we’ll be covering why you need a retainer after braces or Invisalign, what the different types of retainers are, and how to care for them.
Why Do I Need to Wear a Retainer After Braces or Invisalign?
When you’re actually wearing braces or Invisalign and your teeth are shifting into place, this is what’s known as the active phase of your orthodontic treatment. When it’s complete, you enter the retention phase, which is when you wear a retainer. During the active phase, your braces or aligners exert steady, gentle pressure to move your teeth, which stimulates the process of bone remodeling. During bone remodeling, the bone and tissue that support the teeth break down, allowing the teeth to move in the direction we want. When you remove the pressure (i.e., have your braces taken off or stop wearing your aligners), the teeth have a natural tendency to shift back to where they were.
A retainer prevents the teeth from moving by holding them in their new positions until the bone and tissue tighten back up and lock your new smile into place. Additionally, the teeth drift as part of the natural aging process and a retainer can minimize this shifting. Not wearing a retainer after braces or Invisalign will eventually result in a relapse. So, how long do you have to wear a retainer? Typically you’ll only wear it full-time for a short period before transitioning to just wearing it at night. Eventually, you’ll only have to use it a few nights a week.
The Types of Retainers After Braces or Invisalign
There are two main types of retainers after braces or Invisalign: fixed and removable retainers. Here are the basics of each kind:
A fixed retainer consists of a thin metal wire that’s bonded to the back of the teeth on the tongue side. It can’t be seen when you smile and it can stay in place for years, or even decades, if properly cared for. Your orthodontist will be able to determine if a fixed retainer, often called a permanent retainer, will be the best choice for your smile needs. Sometimes, we’ll use a fixed retainer on one arch and a removable retainer on the other arch.
There are two types of removable retainers:
A Hawley retainer is probably what comes to mind when you hear the word “retainer.” It has a piece of acrylic that rests against the roof or bottom of your mouth, depending on which arch it’s used on, and an attached wire that goes around your teeth. While it is visible, it’s less noticeable than metal braces. A Hawley retainer can be adjusted if we need to make minor corrections. However, an increasing number of patients are opting for clear retainers instead so we don’t use Hawley retainer as much as we used to.
Essix Retainer, Also Known as a Clear Retainer
An Essix retainer is a clear retainer made from smooth, BPA-free plastic. It’s very similar to an Invisalign aligner. In fact, the company that makes Invisalign also makes Vivera clear retainers, a brand of Essix retainer. Clear retainers, or Essix retainers, slip over the teeth, are comfortable and are nearly invisible. They’re the most popular option with our Bellaire and Houston orthodontics patients.
How to Care for Your Orthodontic Retainer
Here are some tips for caring for your retainer after braces or Invisalign:
- Brush and floss around your fixed retainer. The wire can accumulate food and plaque just like braces can, so oral hygiene is important. You’ll also want to keep up with your regular dental appointments so your dentist can ensure the area is clean and cavity-free.
- Always keep your removable retainer in its retainer case when you’re not wearing it. Never place it on a napkin or in a tissue because it can get thrown away. You’ll even want to store it in its retainer case when you take it out to brush and floss because pets love retainers. The last thing you want is your dog damaging it.
- Remove your retainer before eating and drinking anything aside from plain water. If you have an Essix retainer, like a Vivera clear retainer, it’s especially important to take it out even if you’re just taking a sip of a drink. The liquid and sugars can get stuck between your teeth and your retainer, which will increase your risk of tooth decay.
- As for how to clean your retainer, gently brush it with a soft-bristled toothbrush and some non-abrasive toothpaste whenever you brush your teeth. This will get rid of plaque and any food debris. For a deeper clean, you can also occasionally use a retainer cleaner and let it soak. This will prevent it from smelling and will get rid of any build up.
- Don’t store clear retainers in hot vehicles or drink hot drinks with them in your mouth. The heat can warp the retainer, which will affect the fit and could potentially result in your teeth shifting.
- If you lose a retainer, call our office right away to have it replaced. Not wearing your retainer after braces or Invisalign, even for a few nights, will result in your teeth shifting. It’s important to get a new one so we can maintain your smile.
- Bring your retainer with you to appointments so we can make sure it’s still in good shape and it fits correctly.
Now that you know all of the details about wearing a retainer after braces or Invisalign, we hope you’ll take excellent care of your appliance to keep your smile in tip-top shape. At our practice, we have a Retainer Club Membership program to ensure you always have a retainer and can keep your new smile looking its best. Call our office for more details!