You’ve been going to appointments, brushing carefully, turning down popcorn and candy for months and months while wearing braces. They’re finally off, and your smile is looking great. So why, after all that hard work, do you still need to wear a retainer?

When you commit to orthodontic treatment, it’s very important to understand you are also going to need retainers to hold the final result. As we continue to age, our gums and lips will undergo changes, which can impact the position of our teeth over time. Our teeth also have a strong memory and, because of the fibres that hold them in place, they may try to return to their previously crooked or crowded position.

A retainer, which is provided by your orthodontist as part of your initial treatment plan, will be custom designed to hold your smile in its optimal position. It’s very important to use your retainer as instructed by your orthodontist to ensure you won’t need further orthodontic treatment to deal with relapse.

What’s a Retainer?

A retainer is a piece of plastic and metal that is custom-made for each individual kid who needs one. It fits the top of the teeth and mouth. No two retainers are alike, even though many look similar.

Retainers are really common. In fact, most people (kids and adults) who have braces have to wear a retainer for at least a little while after getting their braces taken off. Other people wear them to close gaps in their teeth, to help with speech problems, or to solve certain medical problems.

Why Do I Need to Wear a Retainer?

You might need a retainer for a few reasons. The most common reason is to help your teeth stay set in their new positions after wearing braces. It’s important to wear your retainer because as your body grows, your teeth do some shifting. The retainer helps to control this shifting, which occurs naturally.

After your braces are removed, your orthodontist will fit you for a retainer and tell you how long to wear it and when. For example, you might have to wear it all day for 3 months but then only at night after that. Some kids may wear their retainer only at night right from the start, but they may have to wear it for more than a year. The retainer keeps the teeth in line and you won’t even notice it while you’re sleeping!

Other kids may wear retainers to close a space between their teeth or just to move one tooth. In these cases, braces aren’t needed because retainers can do the job. Often, retainers will be worn for several years to close a space, for example, and then keep the gap closed by holding the teeth in place.

When you wear a retainer for any reason, certain teeth may feel pressure and might even feel sore for the first few days. If you experience this, don’t worry — it’s completely normal.

Retainers can help many mouth problems besides shifting teeth. Sometimes they’re used to help a medical problem. For example, you may have a tongue thrust (a condition where your tongue sneaks through your teeth when you talk). Some retainers, known as a crib or tongue cage retainers, are designed with small metal bars that hang down from the roof of your mouth. These retainers keep your tongue from going forward in between your teeth when you speak. Your tongue is trained to go to the roof of your mouth instead of through your teeth. The length of time kids wear a tongue cage varies depending on the kid.

Another use of retainers is to help people with temporomandibular disorder (TMD). This disorder is usually a result of a bite problem (the teeth don’t meet together properly when the jaws are closed) called malocclusion or bruxism, which is grinding your teeth while you sleep. Grinding stretches the muscles and joints in your mouth and jaws and sometimes can cause jaw pain or headaches. Retainers can help you by preventing your mouth from closing completely at night, which keeps you from grinding your teeth.

Orthodontic RetainerTypes of Retainers

There are two types of orthodontic retainers: fixed and removable. Removable retainers can be taken out when you need to eat or brush your teeth. Fixed retainers are permanently glued to your teeth and should only be removed by your Decatur orthodontist.

Caring for Your Retainer

Retainers live in your mouth along with bacteria, plaque, and leftover food particles. You should clean your retainer every day, but make sure to check with your orthodontist about how your type of retainer should be cleaned (some kinds shouldn’t be cleaned with toothpaste). You can also soak it in mouthwash or a denture-cleaning agent to freshen it up and kill germs.

Because the plastic of your retainer can crack if it gets too dry, you should always soak it when it isn’t in your mouth. Plastic can warp easily, so don’t put it in hot water or leave it near a heat source — like on your radiator, for example. Finally, do not bend the wires. Flipping the retainer around in your mouth will cause the wires to bend.

One important way to take care of your retainer is not to lose it. They are expensive and your mom or dad might have to pay for lost or damaged retainers. Worse yet, they might ask you to help pay for a new one! So look before you dump your lunch tray and try to keep it in the same spot at home when you’re not wearing it. In other words, retain your retainer!

To ask any further questions about retainers and orthodontic treatment, feel free to get in touch with our practice. Initial consultations at Green Orthodontics are complimentary.