Everything You’ve Ever Wanted To Know About Retainers

Every year, millions of Americans use braces or clear aligners to achieve the straighter smile they’ve always wanted. But how do they keep their teeth looking as good as new once treatment is complete? Retainers! These incredible appliances keep teeth in their newly straightened positions and are an essential part of any successful orthodontic plan. In spite of that, many patients continue to underestimate their importance. Here at Serrano Orthodontics, we want to see your new smile last a lifetime! Keep reading below to learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know about retainers, how they can help you achieve a long-lasting smile, and why they play such an essential role in maintaining a newly straightened smile. 

What is a retainer?

Retainers are an orthodontic appliance that we use after the active phase of treatment is complete to keep the teeth in their new positions. This helps patients avoid a phenomenon we call “relapse,” which describes the natural tendency our teeth have to drift back to their original positions over time. While we see relapse happen most often in the late teens and early twenties, it can occur at any time, even following a successful round of orthodontic treatment.

This is because our teeth always remember where they used to be in our mouths, and if there’s no pressure on them, they’ll begin to slowly shift back towards those positions. During treatment, that pressure is accomplished with braces or clear aligners, but once these are removed a retainer is needed to prevent the teeth from trying to get back to their original spaces.

We present every patient with a customized retainer once their braces come off or they use their last aligner, and it should always be worn exactly as directed by our doctors. Failure to do so can undo all their hard-earned progress and may require touch-up treatment in the future. In certain severe cases, it may even be necessary to repeat the entire treatment process. This can happen faster than you might think, so patients must stick to the guidelines that are given to them.

Everything You've Ever Wanted To Know About Retainers

What are the different types of retainers?

We offer two types of retainers to our patients: fixed and removable. After they’ve completed the first phase of their treatment, our doctors will determine which retainer option is best for their specific smile needs. They’ll also take into account any preferences the patient has as well as the level of compliance that is expected from them. 

Fixed retainers

A fixed retainer is composed of a thin wire that is positioned across the interior surface of the lower or upper front teeth. This is bonded into place with glue. Since the wire is stretched across several teeth, dental hygiene can require a bit more effort, especially when it comes to flossing. The bonded wire is incredibly efficient at keeping newly straightened teeth in place, however, and this type of retainer tends to have the best outcome overall. It comes with a bonus, too—patients never have to remember to wear it or worry about losing it since it stays in the mouth.

Removable retainers

Removable retainers generally come with two different options: the Hawley retainer and the Essix retainer. The Hawley retainer is made of a wire and acrylic material, while the Essix retainer is composed of a clear plastic material similar to the kind used with Invisalign aligners. As with any retainer, each style is customized for the patient following the first phase of the treatment process.

Hawley retainers

Hawley retainers have been around for a long time. In fact, they are probably one of the most recognizable orthodontic appliances we have outside of braces. They are kept in place by a wire that wraps around the teeth, which is then combined with an acrylic arch that rests against the roof of the mouth. The stainless steel wires can continue to be adjusted to achieve minor movement of the front teeth if needed. While many orthodontists have been moving away from this more traditional retainer, it can still be very useful for some patients.

Essix retainers

Essix retainers have been very popular with both orthodontists and patients over the last several years. They are made from a transparent plastic material and look similar to the trays that we use with the Invisalign clear aligner system. An Essix retainer is molded to the unique shape of each patient’s mouth and is much less noticeable than a Hawley retainer. With proper care, these retainers should last as long as the patient needs them.

How do you care for retainers?

Even after the treatment process is complete, a good dental hygiene routine is essential for every patient. Brushing and flossing properly is a must, particularly if there’s a fixed retainer in place. This begins by angling the toothbrush to reach every surface of every tooth, taking special care to clean the area behind the retainer. Patients should brush thoroughly but gently to ensure they do not damage the metal wire.

Flossing with a fixed retainer can take some practice, but Waterpiks, floss threaders, and other orthodontic tools can help keep the area between the wire and the teeth free from debris. Patients should avoid or moderate certain foods that can damage their fixed retainer, including crunchy or sticky snacks. Regular dental visits will also reduce plaque and get any baby cavities under control.

It doesn’t take much to care for removable retainers. They should be removed when eating or drinking, and stored in a case any time they’re not in the mouth. They need to be kept away from any heat sources, as this can cause deformation. This includes hot water, direct sunlight, in a hot car, near heat vents or the stove, and so on.  

Patients with removable retainers should always follow the instructions they’re given for the care and cleaning of them. These will generally include brushing the retainer with warm water and mild soap, then soaking it in an approved effervescent cleanser once a week or so for a more thorough cleaning.

Everything You've Ever Wanted To Know About Retainers

Get a lifetime of beautiful smiles with retainers from Serrano Orthodontics

Most orthodontic wisdom now says that patients will likely need to wear some type of retainer indefinitely. After enough time has passed, this will probably only be necessary at nighttime. It may sound overwhelming at first, but this is the very best way to keep a straightened smile in place forever! Most patients adjust to their retainer quickly and find that it becomes just another part of their daily routine before they know it. 

To learn more about how our expert team achieves long-lasting smiles for patients of all ages, get in touch to schedule a FREE consultation with one of our doctors!