The moment a patient gets their braces off or finishes using their last clear aligner is one of the most special moments we get to experience at Thacker Orthodontics. We love seeing how all your hard work and dedication to achieving an improved smile have paid off, almost as much as you do! Though it can be tempting to think that your treatment is over at this point, every treatment at Thacker Orthodontics concludes with a retainer.
The retention phase rounds out your treatment process and plays an essential role in keeping your newly straightened smile in place. You’ve heard us talk about how important retainers are, but you may not understand exactly why. Since retention revolves around the regular use of a retainer, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with this orthodontic superstar before you get your braces off or use your last aligner. Keep reading to learn more about the basics of retainers, the different types we offer, and how regular wear will give you long-lasting results!
Why are retainers so important?
As we get older, it’s not unusual to see a slight shifting occur with our teeth. This phenomenon is known as “relapse,” and will usually begin in your late teens or early twenties. It refers to the natural tendency of the teeth to drift back towards their original positions, something that can occur even after orthodontic treatment has been completed. Retainers are the key to preventing this type of relapse—they hold your teeth in their new positions and keep natural drifting at bay.
Time to get a little technical! Don’t worry, we’ll keep it simple. 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 actually living tissues that are affected by the movement of the teeth, and it’s this attachment that allows for the small movements of the teeth during treatment.
Orthodontic appliances like braces and aligners are used to place tension in and around the teeth, which facilitates the formation of new ligaments and sometimes bone. This is known as the remodeling phase of treatment. Once it is complete, the newly formed tissues, ligaments, and bone will need time to stabilize. As mentioned above, the retention phase follows. If there is nothing to hold the teeth in place during this phase, they will almost always migrate back to their old positions.
What does that mean for you? If you don’t wear your retainer as directed once the active phase of treatment is complete, your teeth will eventually start shifting back to their old positions, undoing all your hard work. The good news is, it’s easy to avoid relapse! Keeping your teeth in place is as simple as wearing your retainer as directed by your orthodontist. They’ll choose the best type of retainer for you based on your unique needs, preferences, and expected compliance.
What types of retainers are available?
In the same way that we offer fixed appliances like braces and removable appliances like clear aligners, we offer fixed and removable retainers available to you. Removable retainers are further broken down into Hawley and Essix retainers. We’ll explore their features in a little more detail below:
Fixed retainers generally consist of a thin wire that’s bonded behind the bottom or top teeth, or sometimes both. These can be a particularly helpful option for patients who have (or have had) a large space between the two upper front teeth. Once treatment is complete and the space is completely closed, a fixed retainer can be used to keep it that way.
Since the wire stretches across several teeth, dental hygiene is similar to that of a braces patient. If you have a fixed retainer, you’ll need to be especially careful with brushing and flossing to ensure it stays clean. Because the bonded wire holds your newly straightened teeth in the ideal alignment over a long period of time, fixed retainers often have excellent outcomes—and you never have to remember to wear them!
When it comes to removable retainers, there are a couple of different options available. The Hawley and Essix models are both custom-designed to fit your mouth following treatment. When you complete the active phase of treatment, our team will take an impression of your teeth and use this to create your retainer.
Hawley retainers are one of the oldest types of retainers and the one you’d be most likely to recognize! They’re made of stainless steel and kept in place by wrapping a wire around your teeth. That wire has been combined with an acrylic arch that rests against the roof of your mouth, and it can be adjusted to continue minor movement of the front teeth if needed. Although many orthodontists are moving away from using this more traditional retainer, it can still be very useful in certain cases.
Essix retainers are made entirely of transparent plastic and look very similar to the clear aligners used with the Invisalign system. Each one is molded to the unique shape of the patient’s mouth and may cover the entire arch of the teeth or only go from canine to canine. This type of retainer is very subtle and should last as long as you need it, provided you care for it properly.
Cleaning your teeth is easier with either of these removable retainers, but you’ll have to remember to wear them daily. They can also be pretty easy to misplace or damage! If you’re given an Essix retainer, you’ll need to be mindful of where it is at all times and be careful when handling it.
Keep your Thacker Orthodontics smile for a lifetime
In the first year after treatment, it can sometimes take only a few days for teeth to begin shifting back to their original positions. This will continue if you don’t wear your retainer regularly! Modern orthodontic wisdom tells us that most patients will need to wear some type of retainer indefinitely after the teeth have been straightened, but don’t worry! This will become just another part of your daily routine before you know it.
At Thacker Orthodontics, our expert team is committed to finding exactly the right orthodontic treatment for you. That includes the type of retainer that will serve you best! For more information about retention after orthodontic treatment, get in touch with us today to schedule a visit or FREE consultation with Dr. Jim and Dr. MaryEvan. We’re here to help you achieve a beautifully aligned smile that lasts a lifetime!