Orthodontic braces are used, of course, to straighten teeth by gradually moving them into their correct position. After the orthodontist removes the braces, they want to make sure that the teeth do not drift back to their old positions. They will therefore have their patient wear a retainer. Often times, patients ask, “Is orthodontic retention really needed?” The answer is a resounding yes!
What is a Retainer?
A retainer is an orthodontic appliance designed to hold teeth in position after they have been realigned. It is often used after orthodontic treatment or surgery. They are most commonly used before and after braces.
Types of Orthodontic Retention
The bonded or fixed retainer is now the most common type. It is simply a wire glued to the back of the patient’s teeth. Unlike other retainers, the patient can’t remove it. Orthodontists generally recommend fixed retainers for patients whose orthodontic treatments have wrought dramatic changes that are likely to come undone without further treatment. Many orthodontists leave the bonded retainer in place until after the patient’s wisdom teeth come in, which usually happens when they are in their late teens or early twenties. Some people wear their bonded retainers for life.
The Hawley retainer is probably the oldest and best-known type of retainer. Named for its inventor, Dr. Charles Hawley, it consists of plastic and wires. It is most often worn on the upper teeth, and the wire is usually designed to surround the six front teeth and keep them in place. The plastic or acrylic part sits in the roof of the patient’s mouth. Hawley retainers are removable, and the orthodontist can adjust the wire. Hawley retainers are also durable and easy to clean.
Essix or invisible retainers look a bit like Invisalign® braces, and are often used by patients who used Invisalign®. Essix retainers are made from a clear plastic and slip over the patient’s teeth. They can be designed to cover either all of the teeth or just the front teeth. The last type is sometimes called a “clip-on” retainer. Like the Hawley retainer, the Essix retainer is removable, so the patient can take it out when eating. This type of orthodontic retention offers more discretion than a traditional retainer.
How Long Do People Wear Retainers?
The length of time varies, but most patients wear a retainer for at least a year after getting their braces removed. If the patient has a removable retainer, they will likely be told to wear it almost constantly at first. As their treatment progresses, the orthodontist will have them wear it less and less. Most people have to wear a retainer for 18 to 30 months.
Care of the Retainer
Patients with removable retainers need to bring them to all dental check-ups. Retainers also need to be carefully cleaned so they don’t attract a lot of bacteria. The patient should use a soft tooth brush and toothpaste. They should not use tartar control toothpaste for the job, since it contains abrasives that could damage the retainer.
Learn More About Orthodontic Retention
To find out more about the importance of orthodontic retention for maintaining a beautiful smile, visit Petty, Bielik and Burke Orthodontics, with offices in Frankfort and Oak Lawn. We will help answer all of your questions and address any concerns you may have. Contact us today to schedule your orthodontic appointment.