That magical day is here! The straight smile and functional bite you’ve bled for, packed ortho wax on, and foregone caramels and popcorn for is ready to shine on its own. All your dedication to wearing those clear aligners 22 hours a day is about to pay off. Your orthodontic treatment is complete! But wait, is it?
In a nutshell, no. No, it isn’t. While the active part of your treatment might be complete, there is maintenance needed to make sure those pearly whites stay put.
Why Do I Need to Wear a Retainer?
Your jaw, head, neck, and facial muscles are always moving, and your teeth shift slightly throughout your lifetime. A tooth is like a post in the ground. It’s firm, but if you rock it back and forth, it will eventually loosen and shift. Even though your teeth are solid in your bone, the ligaments around your tooth allow a small (very small) amount of movement. Daily chewing, biting your nails, using your teeth as tools (tsk, tsk), grinding your teeth at night, and even the natural aging process can stretch those ligaments, causing slight shifting of the teeth.
Even after orthodontic treatment, the ligaments around your teeth “remember” where they were before. Wearing your retainer religiously erases this memory over time, and the risk of shifting lessens – but never goes away.
If you don’t wear your retainer, shifting over time can become an issue. It can affect your bite or cause headaches. A little shifting after your braces are removed or your clear aligner treatment is complete is normal, but to avoid significant shifting, it is recommend that you wear your retainers at least occasionally for the rest of your life.
Different Styles of Retainers
There are a few different types of retainers. Some are removable, and some are cemented to your teeth and cannot be removed (for a while anyway). Depending on your treatment, you may need to wear your retainer all day, every day for several months and wear it at night indefinitely.
Some retainers fit over your teeth like clear aligners. In fact, if you used a series of clear aligners, you may be able to use the last set as your retainers.
Some are made on a plaster model and fit on the roof of your mouth or behind your lower front teeth using little clips to snap into place. These also need to be removed when you eat and be cleaned regularly. These retainers are often made in a lab and can be made in different colors, with logos of your favorite sports teams, glitter-infused plastic, and other designs that vary from lab to lab.
Permanent, or fixed, retainers are a thin piece of custom-fitted wire that is bonded to the tongue-side of your teeth. As the name suggests, these aren’t removable. They can be brushed and flossed around, although flossers and proxabrushes can help make cleaning around them easier.
Caring for Your Retainer
Keeping your retainer clean is just as important as keeping your mouth clean. Bacteria, food particles, and plaque can get stuck in your retainer, not only making your breath smell bad, but creating a breeding ground for germs.
Brush your retainer to keep it fresh and clean but remember that hot water warps the plastic. Never, ever put your retainer in the dishwasher or boil it in water.
Keep it in its case when you’re not wearing it, so it doesn’t get lost or thrown out.
You might feel disappointed because you have to wear a retainer just when you thought your orthodontic treatment was finished. By committing a little bit of time to keep your teeth straight and functional, you can prevent the need for retreatment in the future and enjoy a beautiful smile for years to come.