Ah, braces. How we love them. And we encourage our patients to love them, too. Because even if they are slightly inconvenient or cause some discomfort, they are well worth the effort in the end. A bright, beautiful, healthy smile is something, well, to smile about!
What some people don’t realize about braces, however, is that the orthodontic treatment continues once the braces are removed. In other words, there is another step after braces. This is generally in the form of wearing a retainer, and it is almost as important a step as the braces themselves.
What Retainers are For
Retainers help keep the teeth in place after the braces have moved them, so that they stay straight and aligned. If you think about it, if teeth have moved to their new home in the mouth, they can move back, too. And without a retainer, you risk undoing all that hard work, time and money you’ve put into the orthodontic treatment.
We’ve seen it plenty of times. It’s not uncommon for people to need braces a second time because they didn’t wear their retainer often or long enough the first time around. Nobody wants that to happen. That being said, you shouldn’t be discouraged about the long term commitment of a retainer. The truth is, everyone should wear a retainer at night. As we get older, our hair turns grey, we need to wear glasses, and also, our teeth move. So even if you did not wear braces, your teeth can still shift.
Some good news about retainers is that they are typically only worn to bed at night. Often times, you can reduce the retainer wear to about 2 nights per week. It is best to consult an orthodontist about what the best protocol of retention would be for you. A bonus to wearing retainers to bed at night is that they protect your teeth while you are sleeping too. Some people that clench and grind at night might be required to wear a stronger nightguard that can also act as a retainer.
Types of Retainers
There are a few different kinds of retainers. The most common type of retainers are made of a clear plastic material that slip over top of your teeth. These are called “Essix Retainers”. Essix retainers are nearly invisible, and easily removable. They are the preferred type of retainer because you can clean your teeth like normal. You also have more control with these retainers because if you notice that they are feeling tight, you will know that your teeth are shifting.
The second common type of retainer is a fixed retainer, often called a “bonded lingual bar”. These retainers are usually made of a wire that is held in place after being cemented to the back surface of your teeth. They cannot be removed without visiting your orthodontist, and they can be kept in place for up to several years. Bonded lingual bars can be more maintenance because there is a chance of breakage, and also, it is more difficult to floss. You will need to use a floss threader to get behind the bar in order to effectively clean your teeth.
It can be disheartening for both the patient and the orthodontist to see teeth move back or become crooked again after braces are removed. Therefore, it is imperative to follow the orthodontist’s advice when the braces come off. Everyone wants to see a healthy smile last, and retainers are part of that process.