How Does a Retainer Work?

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Retainers are commonplace in oral care, regardless of age. But how does a retainer work to keep your teeth in position following orthodontia? Although the concept may seem straightforward, it's important to understand exactly how retainers "retain" alignment, and that they provide support for reasons beyond positioning.

Settling and Relapse

A retainer's primary job is to help stabilize your teeth after you've had braces. The two most important reasons your orthodontist will include a retainer in your treatment plan are "settling" and "relapse," as described by the Journal of Natural Science, Biology, and Medicine. Teeth naturally move, or settle, into the positioning where the most contact occurs between your upper and lower jaws when you bite. Relapse, on the other hand, occurs when your teeth and bone start to move back, forming a malocclusion or misalignment.

It's OK for your teeth to settle into your newly aligned bite, but after months or years of active treatment with braces, you and your orthodontist are naturally aiming to avoid relapsing back to your old one.

Staying in Place

It can take time, even after your braces come off, for your teeth to stay in place. Depending on your orthodontist's recommendation, you may need to wear your retainer for 24 hours a day for the first three months, except for at meal time. If your teeth were severely misaligned, it can take up to a year or more for things to truly stabilize. Your orthodontist may recommend you continue to wear a retainer for at least part of every day after this first 12-month period to maintain a new, straightened position.

Retainers are ultimately made to fit the exact shape and placement of your teeth, and can either be removable or permanent to this end. Whether your orthodontist advises that you wear a removable or permanent retainer – or, in some cases, both – a retainer's main purpose is to hold your teeth in the places to which your braces originally guided them.

Fixing Other Dental Problems

Retainers don't just keep your teeth straight for developmental reasons; they help in other ways, too. The Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine says a misaligned bite can hinder your speech, cause harmful wear on tooth enamel and create the possibility of joint problems. How does a retainer work to curb these issues? Once your braces come off and your teeth are aligned, a retainer helps keep your bite in place so these types of dental problems don't crop up down the line.

Who Should Wear One

As the Mayo Clinic notes, your teeth are set in a bone, which is a living, changing tissue. Retainers help to hold the teeth in place in the jaw in their new position. Anyone who has had braces will need to wear a retainer for a certain period of time. Because your teeth are always shifting by their nature, a retainer helps maintain the new alignment and correct bite. Keep in mind that a correct bite offsets great oral care, and your best solution is wearing your retainer according to your orthodontist's instructions. Some orthodontists recommend that people their retainers indefinitely, at least at night.

Proper upkeep of your retainer is equally important. After you've finished brushing with your Colgate® 360°® Total® Advanced Floss-Tip Bristles toothbrush, be sure to gently brush and rinse your retainer every day.

You've worked hard to achieve straight teeth and a proper bite. Having received instructions on how to wear your retainer in those first few months or years, follow up with and consult both your dentist and orthodontist as you needs change along the way.

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