Here at Bee Cave Orthodontics, we know exactly the kind of time, effort, and dedication our patients put into their own orthodontic treatment. It does not matter if you have been wearing clear aligners for a few months or traditional metal braces for a few years – creating a beautiful, functional smile requires some hard work on your part! It is exciting when you are nearing the finish line of getting your braces off or putting in your last aligner, but before you get too caught up in all the celebrating, remember that you are only completing the first step of orthodontic treatment.
The second step begins after your teeth have been straightened, and it is every bit as important as the first in maintaining your beautiful smile! Regular retainer use will round out the treatment process and is an integral part of keeping your teeth in their new and improved positions. Keep reading to find out more about why this second phase of orthodontic treatment is so essential, and how retainers prevent your teeth from drifting back to their original placements.
So, what exactly is a retainer?
Simply put, a retainer is an orthodontic appliance that is molded and designed to fit the mouth of each individual patient. Our talented Bee Cave team will take an impression of your newly straightened teeth, then create a custom retainer with a clear plastic material (for an Essix retainer) or from wire and an acrylic material (for a Hawley retainer).
Modern orthodontic wisdom tells us that the most successful smiles will wear some type of retainer part-time for the rest of their life after the teeth have been straightened. Do not let that knowledge overwhelm you, though! With just a little patience and practice, your retainer will become just another part of your daily routine. Eventually, wearing it a few nights a week while you are sleeping will be all you need to keep your teeth in the desired positions permanently.
Your retainer may feel a little strange at first, but any initial discomfort should not last long, so do not let it keep you from wearing your retainer properly. Failure to use this appliance as directed keeps it from being able to do its job, resulting in the teeth shifting back to where they once were, leaving your smile exactly where it started.
What do retainers do?
Retainers are used after orthodontic treatment is complete to hold your teeth in the proper alignment while the surrounding gums, bone, and muscle adjust to this new positioning. When your braces come off, your teeth are not the only things we want to stay put in their new, preferred position. The teeth are not just fixtures in the jaw – each one is held in its socket by elastic ligaments that attach the roots to the bone. These ligaments are living tissue that is affected by the movement of the teeth. This attachment is actually what allows for the small movements of the teeth during treatment.
When tension is placed in and around the teeth through braces, new ligaments, and sometimes even bone, are formed. Once the first phase of treatment, the remodeling phase, is complete, those tissues, ligaments, and bone will need time to stabilize. Without the help of a retainer to hold the new positions as they stabilize, the teeth will almost always migrate back to their old positions. This will undo all the hard work that goes into straightening your teeth in the first place, and who has time for that?
Are there different types of retainers?
There are two different types of retainers: fixed and removable. Dr. Da Silveira will take a number of factors into consideration before recommending a retainer for you, including your specific case, your preferences, your lifestyle, and your expected compliance.
Fixed retainers consist of a thin wire bonded behind the bottom or top teeth, or sometimes both. The wire will stretch across several teeth, so dental care is similar to braces care, particularly when it comes to flossing. Although a fixed retainer can take a little more work to keep clean, it does tend to have the best outcome overall, because the bonded wire is able to hold the newly straightened teeth in the ideal alignment over a long period of time.
There are a couple different options when it comes to removable retainers. Traditional removable retainers will typically include a metal wire that surrounds the front teeth and is attached to an acrylic arch that sits in the roof of the mouth. The metal wires can be adjusted to continue minor movement of the front teeth if needed. This is sometimes referred to as Hawley retainers, and they are probably the most recognizable retainer.
There is another type of removable retainer that looks very similar to an Invisalign aligner, which is often called an Essix retainer. This clear retainer may fit over the entire arch of your teeth, or only from canine to canine. Cleaning your teeth is easier with these retainers, but you will have to remember to wear it daily. At the beginning of this second step of treatment, it is likely that you will need to wear it all day and all night for at least three months. At the end of this period, your teeth will be assessed. If no movement is detected, then you may be able to wear the retainer less often, like overnight, or for just a few hours during the day. These retainers are a lot easier to misplace or damage, so it is important to be mindful of where they are at all times, and to be careful with them.
Keep your smile on the straight and narrow with Bee Cave Orthodontics
Have you been daydreaming about the day your braces come off or deciding how to celebrate your last clear aligner? Whether you are unfamiliar with the concept of orthodontic retention or need nothing more than a refresher course on the importance of retainers, the Bee Cave team is here for you and happy to help with all your questions and concerns. If you are in the Austin area and want more information on the role retainers play after orthodontic treatment, get in touch with us today. Dr. Da Silveira and the rest of our skilled staff will help keep your teeth in place year after year, through braces, retainers, and beyond!