The Purpose of a Retainer

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The day you get your braces off is one you’ll remember for years to come. Many patients can’t take the smile off their faces when they see their results. Understandably, they want that perfect smile to last. Orthodontic treatment doesn’t end when the brackets come off. In fact, the period that immediately follows braces removal is one of the most critical times for your bite and tooth alignment. We receive plenty of questions about the purpose of retainers and how to use them. We’d like to clear up any confusion about life after braces:

What is the purpose of a retainer?

Genetics are what cause crooked teeth or a misaligned bite. Without a retainer, those same genetics will come back with a vengeance. Your teeth can easily revert to the way they were before orthodontic treatment if you ignore your retainer after having braces. Teeth move on their own and it takes time for muscle patterns to adjust and settle down. Orthodontic relapse occurs when patients ignore their retainer and sometimes requires extensive treatment. Shifting teeth are inevitable in the years following braces removal. How much shifting occurs depends on how regularly a patient wears his or her retainer.

What kinds of retainers do you use?

There are a few types of retainers that help maintain tooth alignment and a proper bite. The most recognizable kind is called a Hawley retainer. It has an acrylic plate and a metal wire that wraps around the patient’s teeth. The plate is molded to fit perfectly with the roof of the mouth. Another type of retainer that shifts teeth into place is made of clear plastic. It fits directly over the teeth and helps maintain a beautiful smile. A third type is called a fixed bonded retainer. This type of device is not removable by the patient and adheres to the back of teeth.

How long do I need to wear a retainer?

The amount of time someone needs to wear a retainer varies by patient. The severity of a patient’s alignment issues is the largest factor in this decision. In the month after braces removal, the risk of relapse is highest. It’s imperative that all patients to wear their retainers as instructed during this important time. After several months, many people are able to switch to wearing their retainers at night only. Make no mistake; wearing retainers is an extended commitment. Orthodontists generally agree that teeth tend to shift towards their original position for 3-5 years after braces removal. It is typically recommended to wear your retainer through these years.

What happens to teeth in the long run?

Natural physiologic drift occurs in all people as they age. The width of a smile narrows when people get older. As a result of this, crowding can occur and require treatment. This phenomenon is unrelated to orthodontic relapse, and many adults seek treatment to correct it. Technology has quickly advanced over the last few decades, and there are specialized treatment options that can provide a nearly invisible solution for crooked teeth. Luckily, the problem is usually not severe enough to require further treatment, and most adults who have faithfully worn their retainers suffer very few complications down the road. People with permanent retainers will always have some metal in their mouths, but not enough to be noticeable or annoying.

If you’re about to get your braces removed, congratulations! The hardest part is over. As long as you remember that your orthodontic treatment isn’t completely finished, you’ll be able to enjoy your new smile well into the future. If you’re still curious about retainers or any other type of orthodontic gear, you can contact our Kansas City office at (816) 746-1200.

One thought on “The Purpose of a Retainer

  1. Ivanna Flint says:

    I really appreciate it when you explained that the function of a dental retainer is to help maintain tooth alignment and proper bite. Are there any prerequisites before a person is qualified to get dental retainers? this is because my brother has a horrible bite, and eating is hard for him to do. It might be best if we visit a dentist and see what we can do or learn if he is a candidate for it. Thank you for sharing this.

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