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Retainers After Braces: How Important Is It?

Retainers After Braces: How Important Is It?

The day has finally come and you’ve gotten your braces off. There’s barely been a moment to enjoy a metal-free mouth and here comes the orthodontist with another torture device. However, retainers are a critical part of the teeth-straightening process. Without them, all the changes the braces made can quickly come undone.

Read on to learn why retainers after braces are so crucial to maintain that beautiful new smile.

Key Takeaways

What Are Retainers?

Retainers are orthodontic appliances that are usually used to retain the changes made by orthodontic treatment. In other words, retainers prevent tooth movement back to their original, crooked places after you get your braces removed [1].

With all the effort it takes to move teeth, perhaps it seems like they ought to stay where they were put. However, the fibrous tissues around the teeth will pull them back into their original position. 

The success of orthodontic treatment depends on teeth staying in the correct position, so using a retainer is at least as important as wearing braces. Unlike braces, however, you probably won’t have to wear them constantly. They also don’t interfere as much with activities or eating.

Types of Retainers

There are two types of orthodontic retainers: removable retainer and fixed retainer. Removable retainers are far more common than the fixed variety. 

Removable retainers might be:

retainers after braces
  • Hawley retainers: Also called wire retainers, a hawley retainer is the classic pink plastic and wire retainer. Versions of hawley retainers exist for both upper and lower teeth. 
  • Essix retainers: Better known as clear, plastic retainers. Similar to clear aligners, these are generally more comfortable and have become more popular.

There are also several types of retainers that are fixed and aren’t removed [2]. Sometimes, they are also called bonded retainers as they are fixed to the teeth with adhesive. The most common type is the fixed lingual retainer, which runs across the tongue-side of the lower, front teeth. They are usually worn for longer and sometimes may be permanent retainers.

Retainers After Braces: Is It Necessary?

Many people are reluctant to wear an orthodontic retainer. In fact, as many as half the people prescribed orthodontic retainers will stop wearing them after a couple of years [3]

People who don’t wear their dental retainers risk a return to crooked teeth. Unfortunately, there’s no method of straightening teeth naturally and once that happens, the only solution is going back to braces.

Purpose of Retainers

Faced with wearing a retainer, it might make sense to wonder why it took so long to straighten your teeth if tooth movement is so easy. It’s important to remember that, while your braces have been at work for a year or two, your teeth have been growing in for your whole life. 

Teeth are held in place like ligaments and tissue, not just bone. It’s a bit like your teeth are attached to your jaw by rubber bands. After braces removal, the stretched ligaments want to pull teeth back to where they are. Retainers hold the teeth in place until the ligaments relax into the new position.

Without an orthodontic retainer, it can take as little as two weeks for teeth to begin to shift back.

Relapse and Retention

Most people wear their retainers for at least a certain amount of time after their orthodontic treatment has been finished—wearing it even once a week can be helpful. Additionally, you may only have to wear your retainer for a limited time. 

While some people may have to wear retainers indefinitely, that’s more likely after crossbite correction or other more serious corrections.

What Happens If You Don’t Wear Retainers After Braces?

Simply put, if you don’t wear your retainer you risk having your teeth shift. A certain amount of shifting is inevitable and the lower incisors of most people, the lower teeth at the front of your mouth, will shift throughout their lives.

It’s not clear how risky it is to stop wearing your retainer. As much as 80% of people who don’t wear their retainer regularly may not see any significant change. On the other hand, 20% went through all the trouble of wearing braces, only to have all that undone.

Retainers After Braces: What To Expect

Whether you had traditional metal braces or clear aligners, you’ll be presented with a plan for using orthodontic retainers. You’ll need to wear them until your teeth settle into their new positions. Unfortunately, there’s no general rule for how long that will be since each case is different and will depend on a wide variety of factors.

How Many Hours a Day Should You Wear Retainers?

Removable retainers are usually not worn 24 hours a day. This is true for both hawley retainers and clear plastic retainers. In general, retainers are worn for one of two lengths of time. 

First, retainers are worn during the day and taken out to sleep, to eat, or for other reasons. The second is the opposite plan, worn overnight and removed during the day. 

How Long Are Retainers Worn After Braces Removal?

There is no fixed length of time for the use of retainers. Removable retainers are usually worn for a shorter period, though not necessarily. Fixed retainers may be worn for longer periods and may be a permanent retainer. However, fixed retainers have a high degree of failure and may last only a few years.

There are many factors that can influence the length of time required, one of the most important being the severity of the correction.

Retainers After Clear Aligners

Some patients that use clear aligners, such as Invisalign patients, are closely monitored by an orthodontist who will judge the patient’s needs. Retainers are required after Invisalign treatment.  With some of the less expensive Invisalign alternatives, you don’t work as closely with a dentist. However, you will have to wear retainers after using invisible braces, like Byte.

Invisalign aligners and clear aligner treatment are usually used for less severe corrections, particularly cosmetic changes to the front teeth. As a result, you may end up wearing retainers for a shorter period. Other factors, like Byte’s Hyperbyte tool, may also affect the need for retainers. You can learn more about that in our Byte Aligner review.

How Long Do You Have to Wear Retainers After Aligners?

Most likely, you’ll have to wear your retainers for 24 hours a day for at least the first two weeks. After that, you’ll be wearing retainers at night for at least a while. There is no set length of time for continuing to wear clear retainers. Although, Byte mentions that in order to maintain their guarantee, you must continue to order a new retainer every year

Remember that clear aligners are a type of orthodontic treatment and require the same type of maintenance as traditional braces. Almost certainly, it will be a clear plastic retainer rather than wire or hawley retainers. Find out more about them as an option in our nighttime clear aligners review.

How To Keep Your Retainers Clean

It’s ironic but true that orthodontic treatment actually makes you more vulnerable to tooth decay and gum inflammation. As with braces, retainer wear provides bacteria all sorts of opportunities to hide, while also providing spots for food debris to collect. 

The result is greater plaque buildup, which can lead to cavities, gingivitis, and worse. The only way to prevent those issues is good oral hygiene and also keeping your retainer clean.

retainers after braces

Keeping a Removable Retainer Clean

Whether you’re using plastic retainers or wire retainers, the first step to keeping it clean is to take it out before eating. This is particularly true when eating or drinking sugary foods.

A hawley retainer may seem less vulnerable as they don’t fit as closely to the teeth. However, it’s important to remove them as well. 

Otherwise, simply brushing your retainers with water and toothpaste is probably enough to keep them clean [4]. While all sorts of special cleaning agents are available, they don’t seem to be any more effective.

Keeping a Fixed Retainer Clean

Keeping fixed retainers clean is just as critical, though it is often much more difficult. A fixed or permanent retainer is usually lingual retainers, plastic or multi-strand metal wires that are bonded to the tongue, or lingual, side of the teeth [5]

The process of fixing a wire-bonded retainer is complex and fiddly, so fixed retainers can be fragile. At the same time, it’s important to clean around the bonded retainer and between the teeth it is fixed to. While dentists recommend flossing for everyone, it’s particularly important for folks with a fixed retainer. As with braces, a floss threader can make cleaning a bonded retainer much easier

FAQ

Here are the answers to common questions.

Do You Have To Wear Retainers Forever?

Some people do have to wear retainers indefinitely. The more concerned you are about teeth shifting out of place, the better an idea it is to wear a retainer. As an aspect of orthodontic care, your comfort wearing retainers is something to discuss with a dental professional.

Does Everyone Get a Retainer After Braces?

Yes, if you were wearing braces, retainers are almost certainly going to be the next aspect of your orthodontic treatment.

Can Teeth Shift Even With a Retainer?

No variety of orthodontic treatment is 100% effective or permanent, so it’s certainly possible. People’s teeth move throughout their lives, whether they have had braces or not.

How Fast Do Teeth Move Without Retainer?

Retainer wear is usually most important just after your braces are removed. While the shift may be slower, some patients can see deterioration in just a couple of weeks.

Conclusion

There are many different types of retainers, each designed to meet different needs. However, they all have the general purpose of keeping teeth where they were moved, retaining the changes that were made. While they can make dental hygiene more difficult, it’s an important part of orthodontic treatment and shouldn’t be neglected.

References:

  1. Johnston, C. D., and S. J. Littlewood. “Retention in Orthodontics.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 16 Feb. 2015, www.nature.com/articles/sj.bdj.2015.47.
  2. Kartal, Yasemin, and Burçak Kaya. “Fixed Orthodontic Retainers: A Review.” Turkish Journal of Orthodontics, Turkish Orthodontic Society, June 2019, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6605884/.
  3. Kacer, Kurtis A., et al. “Retainer Wear and Compliance in the First 2 Years after ACTIVE Orthodontic Treatment.” American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics, Mosby, 3 Nov. 2010, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0889540610005391.
  4. Chiew Sinn Chang, Sarah Al-Awadi. “An Assessment of the Effectiveness of Mechanical and Chemical Cleaning OF Essix ORTHODONTIC Retainer – Chiew Sinn CHANG, SARAH Al-Awadi, Derren READY, JOSEPH NOAR, 2014.” SAGE Journals, 1 June 2014, journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1179/1465313313Y.0000000088.
  5. Zachrisson, Bjorn U. Long-Term Experience with Direct-Bonded Retainers: Update and Clinical Advice. 2007, www.researchgate.net/profile/Bjoern-Zachrisson-2/publication/5658318_Long-term_experience_with_direct-bonded_retainers_update_and_clinical_advice/links/0a85e537f479b5e6bf000000/Long-term-experience-with-direct-bonded-retainers-update-and-clinical-advice.pdf. 
Retainers After Braces: How Important Is It?

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