Orthodontic treatment is complete, and your child is getting his or her braces removed and have completed the hardest part of the road to a beautiful smile and straight teeth. And when you think the end is near, the orthodontist tells you that wearing retainers after braces is not an option — it's a requirement. Believe them when they say that the success of the orthodontic treatment depends upon diligently wearing a retainer.
The use of retainers after braces is an essential part of the continuing maintenance of teeth and will go a long way toward keeping the same bite and smile that the braces have formed over the last few years.
Your orthodontist, who performed the orthodontic treatment, will fabricate your retainers. The retainers are made by taking a dental impression of the upper and lower straightened teeth. The dentist sends the impression to a dental laboratory, and the retainers are made from wire and acrylic material. The dental retainers are sent back to the orthodontist who fits them on your teeth to secure them. Retainers are worn for several years, or in some cases, indefinitely.
Before your child got braces, the orthodontist carefully analyzed his teeth and jaws to develop the best treatment plan to move his teeth into proper alignment. Because teeth are securely held in place by bone and ligaments, it is no easy feat to move them. The bite is corrected, and your child's teeth look great, but they are not yet stabilized in their new spots. It takes time for the bone and ligaments to tighten and hold the teeth securely in place.
Orthodontic appliances put mechanical forces on the teeth to trigger changes in the ligaments and bone to allow movement. This process is slow and carefully planned, and the teeth eventually move into the correct position.
Retainers are vital to preserving the great results that the orthodontist was able to achieve. If your child does not wear a retainer at this point of treatment, their teeth will slowly drift out of alignment. It will be back to the drawing board!
There are two types of retainers after braces: fixed and removable. Choosing the type usually involves the clinical needs of the individual case, the patient's desires, and the overall compliance that the dentist and patient can expect regarding retainer maintenance. Some dental issues require certain retainers, and some retainers are more high maintenance than others.
- Fixed Retainers: The fixed type of retainer is usually a thin wire worn across the back of the lower or upper front teeth, which bonds in place with a cement similar to that applied on the brackets of braces. Because this type of wire stretches across several teeth, a floss threader or similar cleaning device must be used to access the spaces between the teeth, which is similar to how people with braces have to floss. Even though this type of retainer takes a little more work to keep clean, it has the best outcome because the bonded wire will hold the newly straightened teeth in perfect formation.
- Removable Retainers: The removable retainers are made for the upper and lower teeth and fit on each arch made with acrylic with a wire placed across the teeth. Since it is removable, this type of dental retainer makes it easier to clean your teeth, but the patient has to remember to wear it daily. Your orthodontist will instruct you to wear your dental retainers. They may have you wear them daily for a few months, nightly for many years or even for the rest of your life.
A disadvantage of a removable retainer after braces is that it can be lost or damaged and can even melt or change shape if exposed to high heat. It is also vital not to leave the retainer lying around the house since pets love to chew them! When wrapping retainers in tissues or paper towels, they tend to get thrown out. Most orthodontists charge a few hundred dollars to replace retainers, so people with removable retainers should find a safe way to store them in a plastic retainer case.
Throughout (and after) the use of both types of retainers, periodic maintenance is required, with routine dental visits to check for cavities and to clean the straightened teeth. Your dentist or dental hygienist can inspect in and around a fixed retainer after braces to ensure that it is secure, in place and that the teeth supporting it are free of plaque and tartar.
Your orthodontist will give you instructions for cleaning removable retainers, which could include brushing with toothpaste before you put them in and after removal, or the use of an effervescent cleanser.
Most patients have invested a lot of money in orthodontic care. Using retainers after braces is an integral part of the treatment to ensure a lifetime of happy and straight smiles.