When the braces are removed and you see your beautiful new smile you may think your orthodontic journey is complete. But if you want to keep that perfect smile, there is still more to do. The final phase of orthodontic treatment is retention, where the patient and the orthodontist collaborate to achieve and maintain the best possible smile. Retainers are the finishing maneuver.
After their brackets come off, it’s understandable that patients think they are done. Active treatment may be done, but teeth will continue to move. You may be wondering how long you have to wear a retainer. The better question is, “How can I take the best care of the investment I’ve made in my smile?” After the doctor removes your braces, teeth will continue to “settle in” for some post-treatment movement that’s beneficial.
“Braces put teeth in a more functionally ideal and aesthetically pleasing relationship, but that position is not permanent,” Dr. Piper said. The mouth is a dynamic machine made of living tissue and bone that are always changing. “In fact, I depend on movements after the braces are off to make the bite even better.”
What is a Retainer and How Do Retainers Work?
A retainer is a device custom-fitted to upper and/or lower teeth to help them maintain their finished positions. When worn as prescribed, retainers are the best tool available to minimize unwanted tooth movement after active treatment ends.
Types of Retainers
- The “classic” retainer is the Hawley. This is an acrylic plastic base fitted with stainless steel wires to retain the teeth. It’s the retainer of choice for a two-phase treatment, worn between the first and second phase (pre-and post-adolescent patients). We make them in-house or send them to a lab to be custom made from impressions taken at the deband appointment.
- Another type is called a “full coverage” retainer, which is clear and completely surrounds all the dental surfaces. The full coverage retainer can double as a whitening tray and as a mouthguard.
- A third type is a fixed retainer, which is a wire cemented to the back side of the front teeth (cuspid to cuspid). The orthodontist places the wire and cements it into its permanent position.
While it sounds ideal, a fixed retainer requires special flossing and tends to become a “food trap.”
How Long Do You Have to Wear a Retainer?
Another common question patients have is “How long do I have to wear my retainer?” Immediately after getting your braces off, Dr. Piper will recommend you wear retainers all the time for three to six months to stabilize the teeth. After six months, retainers may be worn at night indefinitely. Retainers do keep your bite in place and, if you stop wearing your retainer, your teeth could eventually shift into an undesirable position.
How Long Can I Go Without a Retainer?
You may be tempted to gamble and try to see what happens if you don’t wear your retainer —but don’t do this. As corny as it sounds, your retainers are your smile’s best friend. Braces are an investment of your time and money. Take the long-term investment you’ve made seriously and do these things to care for your retainer:
- Keep retainers in a fluorescent retainer case with your name and contact information written on it in big letters.
- Keep the case in the same location every time.
- Never put them on your lunch tray or wrap them in a napkin.
- Retainers left in a hotel room do you no good.
- Dog owners: keep retainers out of your pets’ reach because dogs like the taste of their family members’ belongings. And once a dog has chewed a retainer, it’s no use to the patient or the dog.
What to Do if You Lose Your Retainer?
If you lose your retainer it’s important to call your orthodontist and arrange for a new retainer to be made. We don’t want to lose valuable time getting your new retainer to you.
A Memphis Orthodontist for Your Braces Care from Start to Finish
Whether you’re just starting to think about braces for you or your child, or are relocating to the Midtown or East Memphis area and looking for an orthodontist to continue your care, the experienced team at Piper Orthodontics would love to meet you. We offer free consultations to discuss your treatment for a picture-perfect smile you’ll be proud of. Please call our office at 901.756.4316 to schedule an appointment today.