Many of our patients ask us “Will I need a retainer after I get my braces off?”
The answer to that is almost always yes. Nearly everyone will need to wear some kind of retainer after braces.
Think of permanent retainers as an insurance policy for your new smile. Retainers ensure the investment and hard work you put into braces isn’t undone because your teeth moved back to their old position or have a tendency to become irregular just from normal maturational changes.
Many patients who had braces 30 years ago will tell you they didn’t have the same level of cover. There wasn’t the option of a permanent retainer and as soon as they stopped wearing their removable retainer at night, some of their teeth moved out of place. Bottom teeth are particularly vulnerable to moving back to their old position so many orthodontists now recommend a permanent retainer. It’s a small insurance policy to protect your smile.
What Does a Retainer Do After Braces?
A retainer has the important job of holding your teeth in place. Teeth are most likely to move back to their original position when braces are first removed. The gums and fibrous ligaments that hold teeth are loose while the braces are on. When the braces are removed the gums don’t tighten for a while so they offer no resistance to teeth moving around. Wearing a retainer full-time will keep your teeth in place while the gums settle down. After a few months, your orthodontist may tell you it’s fine to stop wearing your retainer during the day but keep wearing it at night.
Many patients ask if you can ever stop wearing a retainer. It depends. The recommended time for wearing a retainer after braces will differ between patients and the type of treatment they had. It is quite normal for most people to observe mild changes in the alignment of teeth as they age and the changes are quite variable from individual to individual and impossible to predict . These changes can be minimised by continuing to wear your retainers part-time.
Do Kids and Adults Need a Retainer After Braces?
When braces are removed, all patients need a retainer no matter what their age. However, age can play a part in the time you need to use a retainer.
If a patient has braces as an adult, they are at greater risk of their teeth moving than if they have braces as a child or adolescent. Adult teeth are more likely to move back to their old position faster than kids. The adult bone and fibrous attachments to teeth are stronger than in adults than kids so there is greater chance of relapse.
Types of Retainers
There are two types of retainers – permanent and removable. Your orthodontist will recommend the one that’s best suited to you towards the end of your treatment.
A permanent retainer is a thin, fixed wire positioned behind the top and/or teeth so it is invisible to look at a patient. The retainer is adhered to the back of the teeth with cement similar to how braces are fixed to the front of your teeth.
Only an orthodontist or dentist should remove a fixed retainer. Most permanent retainers are kept in place for several years. If the retainer doesn’t bother the patient, they may leave the retainer in place to ensure their smile stays fixed in place.
A removable retainer is most often moulded, clear plastic that fits over your teeth. Retainers can be made of bendable wire and acrylic but the clear plastic version is the most requested because it’s virtually invisible. Your orthodontist will make your retainer at the end of treatment after the braces have moved the teeth into their desired position. For Invisalign patients, they may use the last retainer of their treatment as their ongoing one.
The problem with removable retainers are they’re removable! If you don’t think you want to be removing a retainer to eat and drink or you won’t be diligent about brushing and putting the retainer back in after meals, you may be best to consider a fixed retainer.
What to Expect with a Retainer?
If you have had braces, wearing a retainer should be a breeze. A retainer is more comfortable against your cheeks than the brackets of your braces and there shouldn’t be any soreness because your teeth aren’t being moved into position like braces did. However, like braces, a retainer can still take getting used to.
The retainer sits behind your teeth where your tongue is so your retainer can impact your speech. You may need to slow your speech down and practice reading aloud for several days to work out how to speak without slurring your words. It won’t take long to get used to speaking with your retainer in. A retainer can also cause increased saliva production but this also settles down with time as your mouth adapts to having the retainer.
What Happens if you Don’t Wear your Retainer?
Getting your braces off isn’t the final stage of your orthodontic treatment. Your retainer is the last stage and this maintenance phase can last much longer than your braces treatment.
Your teeth have an incredible memory about where they used to sit and they will do their best to get back there. A retainer helps your teeth make a new memory of where they should sit. The first three to six months after your braces or Invisalign treatment are critical. This is when your teeth are most likely to move back. Wearing your retainer for at least 22 hours per day during this time is important while your teeth settle down. Once your orthodontist is happy, they may instruct you to wear the retainer only at night.
Can You Ever Stop Wearing a Retainer?
It depends on the type of treatment you had and how likely your teeth are to move back. You may need to wear a night retainer for many years after braces to guarantee your smile stays perfect or for just 12 months. Some people will wear a retainer alternate nights or a few nights per week for maintenance. For other patients even a few nights of not wearing their retainer can cause unwanted movement or crooked teeth. If at any point your retainer feels tight when you put it in, wear it for longer than you would or preferably all day.
With age our teeth naturally shift even for those people who have had no orthodontic treatment. But if you have gone to the expense and trouble of having orthodontics, you want the beautiful result to last you a lifetime and a retainer is what will help achieve that.
Just like with braces, if you break or lose your retainer, you need to contact your orthodontist as soon as possible to organise a replacement. Teeth can move back quicker than you think particularly if you haven’t had your braces off for long. Request a new retainer and collect it as soon as it’s ready to reduce the chance of any tooth movement.
Caring for your Retainer
Permanent retainers require that you brush carefully to ensure all food particles are removed between the wire and back of your teeth. With a little practise you will be able to brush and floss your teeth around your retainer. Visit your dentist for regular cleans and to check there aren’t any problems with the retainer.
Your removable retainer will need a little care to keep it looking good and doing its job. If you have a removable retainer, keep the case with you at all times. When you take the retainers out, place them in the case rather than wrapping them in a tissue or paper napkin that can easily be thrown out.
All retainers need to kept clean because food particles, bacteria and plaque can build up. Be sure to give it a good rinse with warm water before putting it back in your mouth after eating. Clean the retainer at least once a week. Use a drop of dishwashing liquid and water then scrub with a soft bristle brush in all the retainer’s nooks and crannies. Rinse well with water. Don’t use your regular toothpaste as this can scratch the surface of the retainer. Don’t place it in boiling water because this will change the retainer’s shape. Microwaves and dishwashers are no place for retainers either! Don’t be tempted to eat or drink anything with your retainer in. Clear retainers can stain and the stains are often permanent.
Once you are wearing your retainer at night only, store it in its container after taking it out. Remember, some pets will chew your retainer so put the container in a bathroom or bedside drawer if your pet dog shows any interest in it.
If you have any queries about retainers or other orthodontic treatments, make an appointment at The Orthodontists by calling (08) 9364 8020 or booking an appointment online.