Once a course of orthodontic treatment is complete and braces or Invisalign are removed, patients will be fitted with a retainer. At Bloom, we provide various different retainers such as an Essix or Hawley, and a fixed wire. A Hawley retainer is an appliance that is worn around the teeth and consists of an acrylic palette and a metal wire that encircles the teeth. Conversely, Essix retainers are less visible and take the form of a dental tray, similar in appearance to Invisalign® aligners.
Why Do We Use Retainers?
Your braces did the hard work of moving each of your teeth into a desired position over time, by applying pressure to the teeth via a bracket and archwire. While our teeth typically feel quite strong and immovable, braces are proof that teeth have the ability to migrate within the mouth along the dental arches.
When there is consistent pressure applied to one side of a tooth, the tooth pushes against bone in the socket, and causes bone resorption to occur on that side in order to facilitate migration. While this is happening, the pressure causes simultaneous reaction on the ‘tension’ side of the tooth root (the part of the tooth that is moving away from the bone). As the tooth root migrates into the bone on one side, the space created in the bone that it moves away from is filled by a deposition of bone tissue on the other side. Our bodies truly are remarkable!
Since our teeth are capable of moving into perfect alignment, it must be understood that they can also move out of alignment. This remains the case for the duration of your life cycle. For this reason, orthodontists supply their patients with retainers in order to support the maintenance of their alignment.
Maintaining Your New Smile
Once your course of treatment with braces is complete, we recommend lifetime wear of your retainer. The first year it is to be worn every night, and then once that year is complete we recommend to continue wearing the retainer at night to maintain that beautiful smile.
How to Care for Your Retainer
Your retainer should be carefully handled and stored in its carrying case when not in use to prevent loss or damage to its structure. We recommend cleaning your retainer daily with a soft bristled toothbrush and a mild dish soap. Dish soap does not contain any abrasives which could harm the transparency of an Essix device, rendering it cloudy in appearance. For this reason, tooth paste is not recommended for cleaning your retainer. Rinse your retainer well and allow it to dry in a safe place if it is not immediately reinserted.
Alternately, polydent retainer tablets can be purchased at your local drugstore, and can be used to soak the retainer during the day prior to insertion at the end of the day.
Important Note About Eating with Retainers
While many patients report improved oral hygiene while wearing appliances in the mouth due to the need to clean the mouth thoroughly after each meal, neglecting oral hygiene can drastically harm your oral health.
Retainers should be removed from the mouth when ingesting anything besides natural (uncarbonated) water. Wearing your retainer while eating, particularly an Essix retainer, traps food, acid and bacteria under the appliance. Since Essix appliances are custom-formed to your teeth, bacteria and food debris can collect under the appliance and essentially serve as an acidic ‘wrap’ for your teeth. For this reason, it is critical to remove retainers during consumption of any foods or drinks besides natural water.
Failing to remove retainers during mealtimes also puts these appliances at risk of being broken when chewing hard foods.
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What Should I Do if My Retainer Doesn’t Fit?
After a course of treatment with braces, patients may enjoy their new smile so much that they ultimately neglect to wear their retainers. If you have been neglecting to wear your retainer as suggested, you may find that the retainer becomes difficult to insert easily. This is an indication that your teeth have begun to migrate.
It is important never to force your retainer into place, as doing so could break it. If your retainer is not fitting well, return to your dental professional to discuss how to remedy the fit of the retainer and correct the migration of the teeth.
In order to optimize your retainer’s effectiveness and prevent loss, we recommend always keeping your retainer’s case with you. Doing so mitigates the risk of needing to wrap it in tissue, for instance, during meals – since they can often be mistakenly discarded as garbage. Keep your retainer out of reach of children and pets, and do not expose your retainer to extreme temperatures that could damage the integrity of their fit or cause it to become brittle. Remember to travel with a toothbrush to facilitate your oral hygiene throughout your busy day.