It can be a little bit discouraging, after wearing braces for months and months, to learn that even after the braces come off, you still have to wear a retainer in your mouth. The first question most people want to know is “Why do I have to wear a retainer? I thought the braces were supposed to do all the work.”
That’s partly true. The braces do perform most of the heavy lifting, or more accurately, the heavy shifting. But the reason for a retainer is to make sure your teeth stay in the new position they’ve been assigned.
This is especially true for children who wear braces. As you grow, there is some natural shifting that occurs. Wearing a retainer maintains control, keeping your teeth aligned and preventing any major shifting that would take them out of alignment.
You would be very unhappy if your teeth moved back into their original position and all your time, effort and money were spent in vain.
How a Retainer Works
The reason our teeth attach to the gums is because there are ligaments and various other fibers that anchor them to their proper place in the mouth. Because of the pressure on the ligaments while you’re wearing braces, they become loose, allowing the teeth to shift to a new position.
Once the braces are removed, without a retainer to keep them in place, the teeth would naturally shift right back into their original position
For younger patients, it’s somewhat easier to maintain the new alignment of the teeth than it is for adults. Children’s teeth are more likely to stay in place when the ligaments have wrapped around the teeth in the new position.
Adults, on the other hand, have ligaments with much stronger attachments and without strict, consistent use of a retainer, their teeth are much more prone to relapse into their original places.
When Do I Wear a Retainer?
As soon as your braces are off your teeth, you’ll be fitted for a retainer, and your orthodontist will give you specific instructions about when and how long to wear it. For most patients, the retainer needs to be worn all day for three or four months and then after that, only at night.
Retainers don’t tend to hurt, but you will need to be patient and give yourself time for your mouth to get used to the new feel of housing a retainer. After the first couple of months, you likely won’t even notice it anymore.
Types of Retainers
There are two types of retainers, fixed and removable.
A fixed retainer is created by bonding a wire to the backside of the teeth. This type of retainer can only be removed by the orthodontist. Fixed retainers are typically prescribed when the orthodontist feels the patient may not comply with the instructions given for proper wearing of the retainer.
As the name suggests, a removable retainer can be taken out any time the patient wants to remove it from their mouth. If the orthodontist is comfortable that the retainer will be worn as directed, only then are they likely to prescribe a removable retainer.
How Long Will I Be Wearing a Retainer?
If you have a removable retainer, and depending on the instructions given by your orthodontist, it will probably need to be worn all the time for the first 2 to 4 months. After that, if the orthodontist allows it, you can switch to wearing it only at night.
However, if you want to keep your beautiful new smile, you’ll need to wear it every night for the rest of your life.
Here’s the reason…
Right after your orthodontic treatment and for several months afterward, the bone surrounding your teeth remains soft. That’s why it’s so important to wear the retainer daily to make sure the teeth don’t shift back into their previous position.
As time passes, the bone around the teeth will begin to harden, and you may not have to wear the retainer as much because there’s less of a chance for shifting to occur.
Our teeth naturally shift as we get older, so in order to keep the smile you worked so hard for, you’ll want to stay compliant with the instructions your orthodontist gives you.
For a fixed retainer, if you have orthodontic treatment as an adult, you’re generally advised to leave it in place forever. The possibility that your teeth will shift is much greater than it is for children and teenagers.
If you were fitted with a fixed retainer as a child, it’s recommended you keep it for a minimum of 10 years. But as long as it’s not giving you any problems after 10 years, it can stay in place for as long as you are willing to leave it there.