Your braces are finally off and your teeth look amazing. You find yourself smiling, even when no one is around. You can’t help it. And then you remember that one little device you’re supposed to wear every day – your retainer. Retainers are custom trays designed to keep your teeth from shifting. Now, I know what you’re thinking, do you really need to wear it all the time? The answer is yes. Wearing your retainer is important for keeping your teeth in their correct position.
Indeed, the most important time to wear a retainer is immediately after orthodontic treatment is completed, because the bone in your jaws needs some time to solidify around the new position of your teeth. But even when your braces are a distant memory, your teeth can still shift. A retainer is important to make sure your orthodontic work keeps your teeth in place. In other words, retainers “retain” the position.
When you first begin wearing a retainer, you should wear it consistently over six months, and then you can gradually decrease usage. Once your teeth have settled into place, wearing a retainer while you sleep 3 to 5 times a week should be enough. But like toothbrushes, a retainer won’t last forever. How often do you need to replace them? That will depend on a variety of things, including what type of retainer you have.
A bonded retainer is a type of permanent retainer, in that it is essentially a wire that’s bonded to the back of your teeth. The glue that bonds the wire can wear out with the everyday activity your mouth experiences—eating, talking, brushing and flossing. A bonded retainer on your upper teeth may last up to three years, while a lower bonded retainer will last longer, as this part of the mouth doesn’t see as much activity.
Even if it’s been a short time since the retainers’ installation, the wires can become unbonded to the teeth without you realizing it. Ask your dentist during your regular dental checkups if anything is amiss.
One problem with bonded retainers is that you can have a harder time cleaning your teeth. You may also grow tired of wires being permanently in your mouth. At some point when you’re years out of braces, you may ask your orthodontist to remove your bonded retainers and switch to removable ones.
There are two main types of removable retainers, Hawley and Essix. Hawley retainers have an acrylic part that fits snugly to the roof of your mouth or behind your teeth, and from this base, wires protrude and wrap around the front of your teeth. Meanwhile, Essix retainers are single pieces of clear molded plastic that fit directly over your teeth.
Both types of retainers can wear out and get gross. The Hawley wires may break off at the points of attachment to the tray. For Essix, hot water can distort the shape, and through wear and tear, it can come to pass that the retainers just don’t fit well after a while.
Essix retainers can last from six months to a few years. Hawley retainers will typically last longer, maybe five to ten years.
Invisalign also makes a line of retainers called Vivera which are similar to the Essix but are more customized to each patient’s individual bite. These are sold through a subscription service so you know you’ll always have a fresh one at hand.
Whatever retainer you end up using, be sure to have a dental professional check them now and then so you can be sure that your beautiful smile is always “retained.”