Why You Really Do Need a Retainer

When the braces come off and you see your perfect new smile you may think your orthodontic journey is complete. But if you want to keep that perfect smile, there is still more to do. The final phase of orthodontic treatment is retention, where the patient and the orthodontist collaborate to achieve the best possible smile. Retainers are the finishing maneuver.

After their brackets come off, it’s understandable that patients think they are done. Active treatment IS done, but teeth will continue to move. Some patients wonder what happens if they don’t wear their retainers, but the better question is how can I take the best care of the investment I’ve made in my smile. After the doctor removes your braces, teeth will continue to “settle in” for some post-treatment movement that’s beneficial.

“Braces put teeth in a more functionally ideal and aesthetically pleasing relationship, but that position is not permanent,” Dr. Piper said. The mouth is a dynamic machine made of living tissue and bone that are always changing. “In fact, I depend on movements after the braces are off to make the bite even better.”

Another common question patients have is “how long should I wear my retainer.” Immediately after getting your braces off, Dr. Piper will recommend you wear retainers all the time for three to six months to stabilize the teeth. After six months, retainers may be worn at night indefinitely.  Retainers do keep your bite in place and, if you stop wearing your retainer, your teeth could eventually shift into an undesirable position.

3 Types of Retainers

The “classic” retainer is the Hawley: an acrylic plastic base fitted with stainless steel wires to retain the teeth. It’s the retainer of choice for a two-phase treatment, worn between the first and second phase (pre-and post-adolescent patients). We make them in-house or send them to a lab to be custom made from impressions taken at the deband appointment.

Another type is called a “full coverage” retainer, which is clear and completely surrounds all the dental surfaces. The full coverage retainer can double as a whitening tray and as a mouthguard.

A third type is a fixed retainer, which is a wire cemented to the back side of the front teeth (cuspid to cuspid). The orthodontist places the wire and cements it into its permanent position. While it sounds ideal, a fixed retainer requires special flossing and tends to become a “food trap.”

You may be tempted to gamble and try to see how long you can go without your retainer —but don’t do this. As corny as it sounds, your retainers are your smile’s best friend. Take the long term investment you’ve made seriously and do these things to keep up with your best friend:  

  • Keep retainers in a fluorescent retainer case with your name written on it in big letters
  • Keep the case in the same location every time.
  • Never put them on your lunch tray or wrap in a napkin.
  • Retainers left in a hotel room do you no good.
  • Dog owners: keep retainers out of your pets’ reach because dogs like the taste of their family members’ belongings. And once a dog has chewed a retainer, it’s no use to the patient or the dog.  
Jill Piper