One day in the not-too-distant future, your braces will come off. In a few moments, you’ll 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’re 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 just for you. We will recommend the type (or types) that will work best in your situation, and we’ll tell you exactly when and how long you need to wear them.
But if your teeth are straight now, why do you need a retainer at all? Simply put, it’s because if you don’t wear one, your teeth will start moving right back to where they were!
Teeth aren’t set rigidly in the jawbone — instead, they’re held in place by a network of fibers called the periodontal ligaments. After they have been moved, it takes several months (or even years) for the periodontal ligament to adjust to the new position. So, if you want to keep that new smile — and not waste all the time, effort, and money it took to get it — it’s essential to wear your retainer as directed.
Being fitted for a retainer usually happens on the same day your braces are removed. They take approximately 45 minutes to make so you may be asked to come back the same day in the afternoon to receive your retainer.
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 — 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 — a big change from braces!
You will wear your removable retainers every night for at least TWO YEARS following treatment. After the initial two years, you may be able to reduce your retainer wear to every-other night or even more sporadic. As a general rule, if your retainer feels tight when you put it in, you need to wear it more. If that is not the case, you might get away with wearing it a bit less, but it’s never recommended you go more than a week without wearing the retainer.
Maintaining and Retaining Your Retainer
To stay fresh and germ-free, all retainers need proper cleaning. Soap and water, denture cleaners, as well as special retainer cleaners, can be used to clean most removable retainers.
Finally, remember to always carry — and use — a retainer case. You’d be surprised how many retainers end up folded in a napkin and accidentally discarded! Also, don’t expose your retainer to excess heat by washing it in very hot water or leaving it in a hot car: That 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.