Retention: The Importance of Wearing a Retainer

Over 4 million people in the U.S. are wearing braces of some kind at any given time – approximately 1 million of whom are adults. The demand for orthodontic treatment has grown over the years, as many people are intrigued by the relatively short and effective treatment options that modern dentistry has to offer.

It is easy to think of orthodontic treatment as the period of time in which braces or aligners are used to shift the teeth into a straighter position. However, this is only the first phase of treatment. The second phase – the retention phase – is equally important and essential for maintaining your beautiful new smile. Without it, your teeth could move back to their original position, negating the results you worked so hard to achieve.

Orthodontic Treatment Doesn’t Stop When the Braces Come Off
At the conclusion of the primary treatment phase, your dental care provider will fit you for another orthodontic device known as a retainer. Per the name, retainers are put in place to prevent the teeth from reverting to their old positions. Initially, retainers are worn continuously, as the first months after removing braces carry the greatest risk of relapse. However, teeth have ‘memory’ and can begin shifting years after braces are removed. The only way to prevent movement is to wear your retainer in some capacity for the rest of your life.

Types of Retainers
There are two types of retainers: removable and fixed. Removable retainers are made of acrylic and come in many different colors – a feature that may make them more appealing to children who may not otherwise want to wear them. They also come in clear, overlay versions that are popular with older teens and adults who prefer a more discreet appearance. Though removable retainers are convenient, they must be safely stored when not in use to avoid loss or damage.
Fixed retainers are thin wires that are permanently bonded to the backs of the teeth. These types of retainers provide the greatest maintenance results, since they are worn 24-hours a day and will always hold the teeth in exact alignment. Of course, the nature of a fixed retainer means that wearers will need to take greater care in cleaning between them.

What to Expect

You will need to consult with your dental care provider to determine how often you should be wearing your retainer. A common timeline for retainer wear includes:

24-Hour Retainer Wear
You may be advised to wear your retainer around the clock, 7 days a week for the first several months to two years after your braces come off. The teeth can take up to a year or more to stabilize and adjust to their new position.

Nighttime Wear
Once the teeth have stabilized, you may be allowed to wear your retainer less. Initially, this might mean wearing your retainer every night. Eventually, you can taper off to just a few nights per week – the frequency you should aim to maintain for life. This will help prevent minor tooth movements. If you notice that your retainer fits differently or more snugly than it once did, that is a sign that the teeth are shifting and intervention may be necessary. In most cases, simply wearing your retainer more often is enough to prevent relapse.

If at any time during the retention phase you have questions about your retainer or feel that it is no longer fitting properly, contact our office. Our goal is to help you achieve a beautiful smile and help you maintain it for a lifetime.