It seems like it's taken forever, but you've finally gotten your braces off. The next phase is to wear a retainer on your teeth, to help them settle into position and to keep them straight for years to come. Part of the process of getting a retainer is to have your dentist or orthodontist take an impression of your teeth and gums. The impression is sent to a lab, where your custom-fit, removable retainer is created.
While you wait for the actual retainer to arrive, your dentist will have you wear a temporary retainer. Temporary retainers aren't the same as permanent, removable retainers and should only be worn until the final retainer is ready. Here are a few ways to care for your temporary retainer while you wait for the real deal.
Wearing a Temporary Retainer
You can think of temporary retainers as a practice run for wearing your final, removable retainer. Wear the retainer at all times, as directed by your dentist or orthodontist. Not wearing your retainer as directed can lead to two problems. One, it can cause your teeth to shift out of position, potentially undoing all the orthodontic work you spent a considerable amount of time and money on.
Two, it increases the risk that you may lose the retainer. Retainers aren't very large, and it's easy to misplace them or have them accidentally tossed in the trash. It's impossible to lose your retainer when it's always in your mouth! The only time it's usually OK to remove your retainer is if you're eating, brushing or flossing, as the National Dental Centre Singapore points out. When you do have to remove your retainer, store it in a carrying case to reduce the risk of losing it.
Caring for the Retainer
Although you'll only have a temporary retainer for a short amount of time, it helps to get in the habit of caring for it and keeping it clean. Caring for your retainer will get you ready for caring for the final permanent retainer.
How you clean and care for your retainer depends on the materials it's made out of. Toothpaste, especially whitening toothpaste, may be too abrasive for temporary retainers and can scratch them. Use a mildly abrasive toothpaste with a soft toothbrush and water to clean your retainer and be sure to rinse it off well.
Making the Switch
How long will you have to wear a temporary retainer? As Kids Health points out, usually not very long at all. In many cases, it takes about a week for the final removable retainer to be ready for you to use. Once your final retainer is ready, it's important to make the switch to it right away. Be sure to keep it clean by brushing it with a toothpaste to fight germs and help prevent bad breath.
You want to change to your final retainer as soon as you can because of something called bite settling. As a study published in the Journal of Natural Science, Biology and Medicine notes, final retainers allow the teeth to settle into place vertically after braces. A temporary device doesn't allow for this settling and can actually negatively affect your results if you use it for too long.
Of course, if you have any questions about your retainer, from how long you'll need to wear the temporary one to how often you need to wear your final one, you can always ask your orthodontist. He or she can provide more detailed instructions that are specific to your mouth and particular case.