One day in the not-too-distant future, your braces will come off. In a few moments, you will be free of bands and brackets, able to eat what you want and run your tongue over smooth, clean teeth. But even on this happy occasion, please remember that you are not quite done with orthodontic treatment yet: The next phase, called retention, is just beginning.

Retention is a critical follow-through stage that typically involves wearing an orthodontic appliance called a retainer. Several different kinds of retainers are available, all of which are custom-made.

But if your teeth are straight now, why do you need a retainer at all? Simply put, it is because if you do not wear one, your teeth will start moving right back to where they were before you began treatment!

Teeth are not set rigidly in the jawbone. Instead, they are held in place by a network of fibers called the periodontal ligaments. After being moved, it takes several months for a periodontal ligament to adjust to its new position. If you want to keep your new smile and not waste all the time, effort and money it took to get it, it is essential to wear your retainer as directed.

Being fitted for a retainer usually happens on the same day your braces are removed. After your teeth are thoroughly cleaned, another set of X-rays or bite impressions may be taken to check how well your braces worked. At that time, a retainer will be prepared for you.

Three Types of Retainers
There are three basic types of retainers available today. Each works best in particular situations. The most common is the so-called “Hawley” retainer: a thin, tongue-shaped piece of acrylic molded to fit your mouth, with a wire that holds your teeth in position. The Hawley retainer is simple, durable and easily removed. It is even possible to personalize it by choosing different colors and designs for the plastic arch.

Another popular style of retainer is the clear aligner type, which looks like an Invisalign® tray system. These retainers are custom-made of thin, transparent plastic designed to fit precisely over your teeth. Their main advantage is that they are invisible, with no wire to show. These retainers are also easy to remove, but they may be somewhat less durable. They are not recommended for patients with certain conditions like teeth grinding.

Finally, fixed retainers may be an option for some people, especially on the lower front teeth. As their name implies, they are not removable by the wearer, but they are not visible either. Like lingual braces, this system uses a wire, which is bonded to the tongue side of the teeth. This type of retainer is sometimes recommended when there is a high risk that teeth could revert to their former position.

A Period of Adjustment
After a short time, most people adjust quite well to wearing a retainer. Some may find that they produce more saliva than usual for a day or so after first wearing any type of retainer, which is a normal reaction to a foreign object in the mouth. You may also find it a little harder to talk normally at first, but that problem will soon disappear. Of course, removable retainers should always be taken out when you eat or brush your teeth.

At first, you will probably be told to wear your removable retainer all day every day. This period of 24/7 retainer use generally lasts from several months to a year. Later, it may be sufficient to wear it only at night. Finally, you will probably need to wear it just a few nights a week.

Maintaining and Retaining Your Retainer
To stay fresh and germ-free, all retainers need proper cleaning. A Hawley-type retainer can be brushed gently with a regular toothbrush, but a brush may scratch the clear aligner types. Denture cleaners, in powder or tablet form, as well as special retainer cleaners, can be used to clean most removable retainers. Fixed retainers are cleaned by brushing and flossing. A floss threader or interproximal brush can also be a helpful cleaning tool when needed.

Finally, remember to always carry and use a retainer case. You would be surprised how many retainers end up folded in a napkin and accidentally discarded! Do not expose your retainer to excess heat by washing it in very hot water or leaving it on a heater. The heat can cause the retainer to warp and make it unusable. With proper care and conscientious use, a retainer can help you transition from braces to a permanent, healthy smile.

Call Lockett Orthodontics today at 719-309-6823 to schedule an appointment with our orthodontist, Dr. Rhoda Lockett, and learn more about how post-orthodontic care in Colorado Springs, Colorado, can help you maintain a beautiful smile for life.