Perfect smiles don't happen overnight. A consistent brushing and flossing regimen, together with good eating and drinking habits, creates a strong foundation for healthy teeth that begins at a very young age. Yet, even healthy teeth don't erupt in just the right spots, necessitating braces to help correct a misalignment.
Once the orthodontia ends, however, you'll wear a retainer to help keep your teeth straight. How long do you have to wear a retainer? That depends on a variety of things – here's what you need to know when it comes to the appliance you wear to ensure your smile continues to look as healthy as it is.
What Braces Correct
Braces are necessary to correct a variety of conditions, as observed by the National Health Service (NHS), including bad bite, crooked or protruding teeth, top and bottom teeth that don't line up correctly, or gaps between the teeth. Malocclusions can be caused by an accident that damages the mouth, thumb-sucking as a child or even premature tooth loss. Genetic factors can cause malocclusions too.
If left untreated, any of these conditions can cause issues that complicate a person's growth: difficulty speaking or chewing, tooth decay and loss, gum disease and overall poor oral health. Nowadays braces can be constructed from ceramic, plastic, metal or a combination of these materials. A patient's final appliance typically reflects how much tooth movement is needed.
When They Come Off
Having braces removed is certainly a reason to smile, but to keep it that way, your retainer needs to be a best friend. A retainer is a custom-made apparatus designed to keep teeth in place after braces are finally taken off. Although this device can be removable, your newly aligned teeth need time to settle into the soft tissue and jawbone that house them.
Wearing a retainer at night and between meals allows your teeth to hold their new form as they naturally try to shift over time. Forgoing a retainer at these times and allowing your teeth to shift by themselves would ruin the effort and expense put into the braces you started with.
Types of Retainers
There are two main varieties of retainers: removable and fixed.
Removable retainers easily slide out of your mouth when you eat or brush your teeth. These retainers should be worn full-time for at least one year after your braces are removed. The orthodontist will determine the length of time a retainer is worn based upon the treatment he or she provided during the braces process. After that period, if no movement is detected, your orthodontist may recommend wearing them only at night. As relayed by the Faculty of General Dental Practice, the British Orthodontic Society recommends wearing retainers for life. Fixed retainers are typically kept in place for several years, and, according to the European Journal of Orthodontics, they can be worn for several decades.
As the NHS notes, of the two types of retainers, there are three models to choose from:
- Fixed Retainers: These are held in place after being cemented to the backs of your teeth.
- Hawley Retainers: The most common type, the Hawley adheres to your mouth's shape and is kept in place by a wire that wraps around your teeth.
- Invisible, or Essix, Retainers: These are made of clear plastic that makes it easy for you to look as if you're not wearing it.
Retainer maintenance can't be neglected once you start wearing one. For a fixed retainer, regular check-ups with your dentist are especially necessary to check for cavities and keep the areas around those teeth clear of tartar and plaque. Removable retainers can be cleaned by soaking them in denture cleaning tablets or vinegar and water. As you can expect, they'll be removed during these appointments (but should go right back in once they're done).
Just because you or your child had braces doesn't mean you should let up or neglect oral care. On the contrary, your smile won't stick around unless you do all that you can to protect it. Your teeth continue to age just like you, and that means you need to brush at least two times each day along with daily flossing (something that braces made very difficult). Continue to brush to help remove bacteria that collect between your teeth, so that even though you still might be unsure – how long do you have to wear a retainer? – you'll still be keeping your mouth in great oral health.