Your Guide to Orthodontic Treatment as an Adult
September 30, 2021
There’s a lot that goes into achieving a smile that’s healthy and beautifully aligned. The team here at Central Virginia Orthodontics knows how hard you’ve worked, and we’re proud of the progress you’ve made throughout your orthodontic journey. Getting your braces off or using your last aligner is undoubtedly something to celebrate, but once this active phase is complete, there’s still a second phase to come—retention!
The retention phase helps us round out the orthodontic process, and it’s just as important as the initial phase of treatment. Although Dr. Baugher or Dr. Claiborne will walk you through how to wear and care for your retainer when the time comes, it’s a good idea to prepare now for the upcoming transition! Keep reading below to learn more about what retainers are, how they work, and why they’re essential for long-lasting results.
Put simply, a retainer is an orthodontic appliance used to keep newly straightened teeth in place once the first phase of treatment is complete. In the active stage, we apply gentle pressure to the teeth using braces or clear aligners. This continuous pressure moves them to the desired positions over time, but once it’s removed, the teeth will begin shifting back to their previous places in the mouth. That’s where retainers come in! A retainer will hold the teeth in place when worn as directed, giving you many years of beautifully straight smiles.
Our teeth don’t like moving from their original positions in our mouths. They’re so stubborn about this that it takes an enormous amount of pressure to shift them! This is what’s happening during the active phase of treatment as the gums grow around the teeth in support, but we can’t keep that level of pressure up forever, though. We’ll relieve it at the appropriate time by removing your braces or giving you your last set of aligners.
Once that constant pressure is relieved, we’ll need to give your mouth time to grow the support that will keep the teeth in their new places. That means applying more pressure, but much less than was needed for straightening your teeth in the first place. Without this additional pressure from your customized retainer, your teeth will begin to drift back to their original positions. This can happen faster than you’d think! In the first year post-treatment, your teeth can begin shifting in as little as a few days.
The pressure that orthodontic appliances put on your teeth means they can’t adjust and heal in place during treatment. Removing that level of pressure allows them to heal fully, while retainers make sure the teeth are where they need to be for that process to happen. Regular retainer use will also allow your teeth to settle in their new positions permanently.
Most retainers need to be worn continuously for a certain number of hours to keep the teeth in place, especially in the beginning. We’ll often recommend wearing your retainer overnight since you’re already likely to be sleeping for several hours in a row. In some cases, we may recommend daytime retainer use as well. While current orthodontic wisdom tells us most patients will need to wear some type of retainer indefinitely for the best results, don’t let that worry you! Your retainer will become just another part of your daily routine in no time.
Modern orthodontic technology allows us to offer patients a variety of fixed orthodontic appliances (like braces) and removable orthodontic appliances (like Invisalign clear aligners.) We have the same kind of flexibility when it comes to retainers! Here’s a look at the different types of retainers we have available.
Fixed retainers generally consist of a thin wire bonded behind the bottom or top teeth, or sometimes both. These can be a beneficial option for patients who have (or have had) a large space between the two upper front teeth. Once treatment is complete and the space is completely closed, a fixed retainer can keep it that way.
Since the wire stretches across several teeth, dental hygiene is similar to that of a braces patient. If you have a fixed retainer, you’ll need to be especially careful with brushing and flossing to ensure it stays clean. Because the bonded wire holds your newly straightened teeth in the ideal alignment over a long time, fixed retainers often have excellent outcomes. You never have to remember to wear them, either!
When it comes to removable retainers, there are a couple of different options available. The Hawley and Essix models are both custom-designed to fit your mouth for the best results. When you complete the active phase of treatment, our team will take an impression of your teeth and use this to create your retainer.
Hawley retainers are one of the oldest types of retainers. They’re made of stainless steel and kept in place by wrapping a wire around your teeth. That wire has been combined with an acrylic arch that rests against the roof of your mouth, and it can be adjusted to continue minor movement of the front teeth if needed. While many orthodontists are moving away from using Hawley retainers, they can still be helpful in some instances.
Essix retainers look very similar to the clear aligners used with the Invisalign system. They’re made entirely of transparent plastic and molded to the unique shape of the patient’s mouth. Essix retainers may cover the entire arch of the teeth or only go from canine to canine. This type of retainer is very subtle and should last as long as you need it, provided you care for it properly.
Cleaning your teeth is more straightforward with removable retainers, but you will have to remember to wear them daily. It can also be easy to misplace or damage them, so you’ll need to be mindful of where your removable retainer is at all times and be careful when handling it.
While most retainers come with slightly different features, they all tend to have similar instructions for care. Your customized retainer will come with a case to keep it in when you’re not wearing it. You’ll need to brush your retainer daily to keep it clean, and you may be instructed to avoid certain drinks when you’re wearing it. If you have a removable retainer, you should always take it out before eating. When you take good care of your retainer and follow our instructions for use, it should last you for many years to come!
The expert team here at Central Virginia Orthodontics is committed to providing you with the best orthodontic treatment for your special smile. That includes finding the right retainer for you! We’re excited to help you achieve a straight and healthy smile that you’ll be able to enjoy for many years to come. If you have any questions about retainers or the retention phase, get in touch! We’re happy to walk you through any concerns so you feel confident in the process.