Do I Need A Retainer?

Retainers can help keep your teeth in place after braces.

Why Do People Wear Retainers?

Although there are many different uses for retainers, most people wear them to help keep their teeth in place. While braces are effective for moving the teeth into the desired position, they’re only a temporary solution. Once the teeth are in place, the braces are removed. Teeth can still shift months or years after one’s braces have been removed, particularly in younger patients.

Retainers are used to keep the teeth in place and help solidify their positioning once the braces have been removed. Some patients need to wear the retainer throughout the day, removing them for eating or brushing their teeth. Others wear their retainer only at night. The duration for retainer use varies by patient and is determined on a case by case basis.

In some cases, a retainer can be used in place of braces. If only minor adjustments are needed, a patient may wear a series of retainers to gently pressure the teeth to move into a new position. Once the proper dental alignment is achieved, retainer use will typically continue just as it does for patients who had braces.

There are a few other conditions that retainers can help with. Patients with TMD (temporomandibular disorder) grind their teeth while they sleep. This can strain the jaw, causing pain, headaches, and undue wear to the teeth. Patients with TMD may wear a retainer that prevents the jaw from closing completely. This is only necessary at night, as it prevents unconscious grinding while the patient sleeps.

Finally, retainers are an effective treatment for tongue thrust. Patients with tongue thrust speak with a lisp, placing the tongue between the teeth when they talk. A specialized retainer can help by stopping the tongue and holding it back from the teeth. Over time, the tongue learns to touch the top of the mouth instead of the teeth, thus resolving this speech disorder.

What Different Types of Retainers Are There?

When people talk about retainers, they’re usually picturing removable appliances that fit around the teeth and mold to the roof of the mouth. This is known as a Hawley retainer. Hawley retainers feature a custom-molded piece of plastic that fits perfectly to the mouth. The wires are adjustable so your orthodontist can give you a comfortable fit.

While Hawley retainers are customizable to a certain extent, they are always visible. The thin wire that runs along the front of the teeth is slightly less obtrusive than braces, but some patients still find it too visible and disruptive.

Essix retainers are a nearly invisible option that can resolve some of the aesthetic issues that patients may have with a Hawley retainer. Essix retainers are made from clear molded plastic that fits over the teeth to keep them in place. Though it’s virtually invisible, the Essix retainer isn’t without its drawbacks. This type of retainer traps liquid against the teeth, making cleaning difficult. It also tends to wear out faster than other types of retainers.

The longest-lasting and most unobtrusive option is a permanent retainer. Permanent retainers are made using a single small piece of wire that’s bonded to the back of the teeth. The retainer is rarely visible, thanks to its discreet positioning. When properly fitted, a permanent retainer will last for life.

Patients with permanent retainers will need to adjust their dental hygiene routines to accommodate this new hardware. Floss threaders are required to get dental floss beneath and behind the retainer so plaque and bacteria can’t hide in this area.

How Long Can I Wear a Retainer Before It Needs to Be Replaced?

Removable retainers typically last anywhere from one to three years. If the retainer is damaged, has an unpleasant taste, or no longer fits properly, it’s time to see your dentist to inquire about a replacement. Permanent retainers are typically good as long as they’re secure and in place. If your permanent retainer becomes loose or detaches on one or both sides, you should see your dentist or orthodontist immediately.

Don’t hesitate to ask about a replacement if you think you need a new retainer. Going without one can cause your teeth to shift, doing costly damage to their alignment. It’s much more affordable to replace a retainer now than to have new work done to your teeth later.

Retainers are extremely versatile tools for shaping and maintaining your teeth. Keep in mind that every retainer is a little different and custom-made for the patient. Speak to your dentist about any issues or concerns you have to make sure you’re using your retainer correctly.


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