Taking Care of Your Retainer

October 27, 2017

Wrapping up your orthodontic treatment? Congratulations! You put a lot of effort into reaching this important milestone. To make sure your beautiful new smile lasts a lifetime, you are ready to embark on the next stage of your treatment – and maybe most its important: wearing retainers.

Retainers are amazing little devices that hold your teeth in their new positions while bone tissue rebuilds around them, stabilizing them. It’s a process that takes time. Even after new bone has solidified, you may need to wear retainers for a long time.

Teeth can move because the bone that holds them in place continually breaks down and rebuilds. During “active” orthodontic treatment, when teeth are being moved, the orthodontist uses braces or aligners to deliver gentle, controlled forces to guide teeth into their proper places. But forces are continually at work in the mouth that can move teeth when you bite, chew, swallow and speak. To counteract these naturally-generated forces, continued retainer wear may be advised. Nothing can prevent 100% of tooth movement, but when retainers are worn as prescribed, they are the best tool available to minimize movement.

The most important thing to know about retainers is that they can only do their jobs when they are in your mouth.

There’s More Than One Kind of Retainer?

Depending on the kind of orthodontic problem you had, your AAO orthodontic specialist may suggest removable or permanent retainers, or a combination of the two.

Removable retainers are the kind you put in and take out. Traditional Hawley retainers are made of wire and a hard, plastic-like material. The part of the retainer that covers the roof of the mouth or goes behind your lower front teeth can be standard-issue pink (like the inside of your mouth), or can be personalized with colors or graphics to make a fun fashion statement. Nearly-invisible removable Essix retainers are available, too. They are molded from your teeth and are made of a transparent, plastic-like material. They resemble clear aligners that are used to move teeth.

Permanent retainers (“fixed”) are placed and removed by your orthodontist. Each is a custom-fitted wire that is bonded to the tongue-side of your teeth.

You and your orthodontist can discuss what’s right for you.

You’ll get a “prescription” for retainer wear – that is, when to wear them, and for how long. Follow your prescription for best results.

If you don’t wear your retainers as prescribed, not only may your teeth move, they may move so much that your retainers won’t fit. If that should happen, contact your orthodontist right away.

A Few Words of Advice

When your removable retainer is not in your mouth, put it in its case.

  • Always carry a retainer case with you.
  • Avoid dropping your retainer into a pocket or purse – the retainer can be damaged.
  • Never wrap your retainer in a napkin – it’s too easy to throw away.
  • Keep your retainer out of the reach of pets – dogs in particular seem to be attracted to retainers, and can quickly chew them into a state of uselessness.
  • Avoid heat – your retainer can become deformed if it’s left on a heater, a hot stove, or in a hot car.

Keep your retainer clean.

  • Your orthodontist will give you instructions for cleaning removable retainers, which could include brushing with toothpaste before you put them in and after they are removed, and/or the use of an effervescent cleanser.
  • Permanent retainers can be brushed and flossed; interproximal brushes may also be helpful.

If you have removable retainers, ask your orthodontist if they should be removed before you eat.

If you have an Essix retainer, you may be advised to avoid drinking liquids (except water) when the retainers are in place. Liquids can seep into the retainer, and the liquid is held against the teeth until the retainer is removed. Liquids with color (coffee, tea, red wine, etc.) can stain teeth. Liquids with sugar and/or acids, such as regular and diet soft drinks, can cause tooth decay.

If you have a problem with your retainer – it’s lost, broken, warped, too loose, too tight, etc. – contact your orthodontist.

Unless it’s lost, bring your retainer with you when you visit your orthodontist.

Now It’s Up to You

Keeping your smile healthy and beautiful is in your hands. Keep up with home hygiene and see your dentist regularly. To preserve the great results you got from wearing braces or aligners, wear your retainers as instructed by your orthodontist. Contact your orthodontist any time you have a question or concern about your retainers or the alignment of your teeth.

The American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) is open exclusively to orthodontists – only orthodontists are admitted for membership. The only doctors who can call themselves “orthodontists” have graduated from dental school and then successfully completed the additional two-to-three years of education in an accredited orthodontic residency program.

When you choose an AAO orthodontist for orthodontic treatment, you can be assured that you have selected a specialist orthodontist, an expert in orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics who possesses the skills and experience to give you your best smile. Locate AAO orthodontists through Find an Orthodontist at aaoinfo.org.