After the braces come off or the last Invisalign tray is used, orthodontic patients use a retainer to maintain their new smile. This is the last part of treatment but one of the most critical. Without proper retainer use, teeth can shift out of alignment—undoing months of treatment.
Burke & Redford Orthodontists want their patients in Temecula, Lake Elsinore, and Riverside County to keep their new smiles for years to come. In this article, we answer some of the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) about retainers.
What Do Retainers Do?
After braces or Invisalign, teeth are properly aligned. However, teeth don’t settle into their new positions until the bones, gums, and muscles adapt. In addition, chewing, growth, and everyday wear slowly move teeth over time. Retainers keep teeth from moving once braces or Invisalign treatment are complete. Without a retainer, teeth can relapse (move out of alignment).
What Types of Retainers are There?
Burke & Redford Orthodontists use different retainers based on a patient’s unique needs.
- Clear retainers (also known as Invisalign-type, vacuform, or Essix retainers) are made of clear plastic and can be removed for eating, drinking, brushing, and flossing.
- Hawley retainers (also known as traditional retainers) are removable retainers made of metal and plastic.
- Bonded retainers (also known as permanent retainers) affix wires to the back of teeth with orthodontic adhesive. They are typically used only on the lower front teeth.
There are pros and cons for each type of retainer. For example, many patients prefer clear retainers, yet they are the least durable option—lasting only 1 to 3 years. Dr. Redford and Dr. Burke will recommend a retainer that best suits a patient’s situation and treatment.
How Long Must Retainers Be Worn?
For best results, retainers should be worn indefinitely. For most patients, the retainer should be worn all day and night, except when eating, drinking, or cleaning teeth for the first eight weeks after finishing active treatment. However, the exact length of time will vary by patient. Some patients may only need to wear a retainer full-time for several weeks, while others may need many months. During this time, patients will come in for periodic check-ups and adjustments. Once the teeth are settled, the retainer only needs to be worn at night (or about eight hours per day).
How Should Retainers Be Cleaned?
Bonded retainers are cleaned with brushing and flossing. Removable retainers can be cleaned using the following procedures.
- Daily Cleaning: Use a soft-bristle toothbrush to gently scrub the retainer with foaming hand soap or mouthwash. Rinse thoroughly with room temperature water. Do not use hot water as the temperature may alter the retainer’s shape. In addition, never use toothpaste to clean a retainer—the abrasives can scratch the surface and allow bacteria to form. Use a cotton swab to clean areas that are hard to reach.
- Weekly Cleaning: Deep clean retainers once a week using retainer cleaning tablets. Place a tablet in a cup of room temperature water and insert the retainer. Let it soak for 10 to 20 minutes, rinse with room temperature water, and resume wearing.
- Special Cleaning: White spots may occasionally appear on a retainer. To clean, soak the retainer in one part water and one part white vinegar for a few minutes and then rinse in lukewarm water.
What If a Retainer Does Not Fit Properly?
Sometimes, a retainer may begin to feel different or doesn’t fit properly. There are two reasons why this happens.
The first reason is that the shape of the retainer has been distorted. This can happen if the retainer is exposed to high temperatures—such as cleaning it with hot water. The high temperature causes the plastic to lose its shape and no longer fit properly in the mouth. Retainers can also lose their shape if they are removed incorrectly, stepped on, or damaged in some way.
The second reason is that a patient hasn’t been wearing the retainer as prescribed and teeth are shifting out of alignment.
In both cases, a visit to the orthodontist as soon as possible will allow the doctor to assess the problem and either adjust or create a new retainer. To avoid these problems, clean a retainer properly, treat it carefully when it is not in the mouth, and wear it for the amount of time prescribed by the orthodontist.
Do Retainers Last Forever?
No retainer lasts forever—not even bonded retainers. Different retainers have different life spans. Clear retainers have an average life span of 1 to 3 years. The life span of a Hawley retainer is 2 to 8 years. Finally, “permanent” retainers can last approximately 4 to 10 years. The life span of each retainer depends on how diligently a patient cleans and cares for it.
Burke & Redford Orthodontists have been treating children and teenagers for over 30 years in Temecula and Lake Elsinore. Our offices also offer sports mouthguards for your teenagers and kids. Give us a call (951) 699-8011 or contact us through our website with questions or to schedule a free orthodontic consultation anytime.