There’s a lot of time, effort, and hard work that goes into successfully completing orthodontic treatment. It’s exciting when you have the finish line in site, and you deserve to celebrate getting your braces taken off or using that last aligner! Keep in mind, however, that there’s a second phase of treatment required to round out the process and help maintain your newly straightened smile. Wearing a retainer regularly is a critical component of that process, and if you’re a patient here at Thacker Orthodontics, you’ve undoubtedly heard us mention that many times over the course of your treatment! That’s because responsible retainer use is the most essential part of keeping your smile straight once active treatment is complete. Why? Keep reading to learn more!

What is a retainer?

A retainer is an orthodontic appliance that has been molded and designed to fit each individual patient’s mouth after the initial remodeling phase of treatment. They’re generally made by taking an impression of your newly straightened teeth, then forming the retainer out of either a clear plastic material or from wire and an acrylic material.

In your late teens and early twenties, there is a phenomenon known as “relapse” that may occur with the teeth. This is the natural tendency of your teeth to drift back towards their original positions after orthodontic treatment has been completed. Retainers are the key to preventing this kind of relapse, holding your teeth in their new positions and keeping this natural drifting at bay.

Like braces or aligners, a retainer can take some getting used to, but it doesn’t take much to adjust to wearing one. Even if there is some slight discomfort initially, it’s important to wear your retainer as directed by Dr. Jim or Dr. MaryEvan. If you don’t, it won’t be able to do its job, and your teeth could shift back into their old positions over time, undoing all your progress.

What are the different types of retainers?

There are two types of retainers, fixed and removable. Dr. Jim and Dr. MaryEvan will take your case, preferences, and the compliance expected into consideration when determining which is the best for you.

Fixed retainers

A fixed retainer consists of a thin wire that’s been positioned across the interior surface of the lower or upper front teeth, then bonded into place with glue. Because this wire stretches across several teeth, dental care requires a little extra effort, particularly when it comes to flossing. However, it does tend to have the best outcome overall, thanks to the bonded wire keeping newly straightened teeth in a more ideal alignment over time. As an added bonus, you never have to remember to wear it!

Thacker patient talking with staff

Removable retainers

There are a couple of options available when it comes to removable retainers. The Hawley retainer is made of a wire and acrylic material, and the Essix retainer is composed of a clear plastic material similar to the aligners used with a system like Invisalign. Both are custom-made to fit your mouth following orthodontic treatment.

Hawley retainers

As one of the oldest retainers, this is almost one of the most recognizable orthodontic appliances! Hawley retainers are kept in place by a wire wrapping around your teeth that combines with an acrylic arch resting against the roof of your mouth. The stainless steel wires can continue to be adjusted to achieve minor movement of the front teeth if needed. These retainers can be a bit more fragile than others, so it’s important to take good care of yours if you’re given one to use. Although many orthodontists are currently moving away from this more traditional retainer, it can still be very useful in some cases.

To properly care for your Hawley retainer, you should always:

  • clean it daily to remove any bacteria and food debris
  • keep it away from heat or hot water
  • store it in its case when you are not wearing it

You can gently clean your Hawley retainer once a day by using a soft-bristled toothbrush and toothpaste. You can also soak it in a denture cleaner a few times per week to freshen it up and kill any germs hiding in the grooves of the mold.

Essix retainers

Essix retainers are growing in popularity with both orthodontists and patients recently. They are made of a transparent plastic material that looks and feels similar to the trays used in clear aligner therapy. Each one is molded to the unique shape of your mouth, and is much less noticeable than traditional wire retainers.

An Essix retainer should last as long as you need it, provided you care for it properly. That includes:

  • rinsing the retainer in cold water each time you take it out, and before you put it back in
  • storing the retainer in a plastic case whenever you are not wearing it
  • brushing the retainer after each meal, using a soft toothbrush with cool or lukewarm water
  • never placing the retainer in hot water, since the heat can shrink it
  • washing the retainer with a specialized cleaner once every few months

It’s incredibly easy to keep your teeth and gums clean with either of these removable retainers, but you will have to remember to wear them exactly as directed by your orthodontist. To avoid misplacing or damaging your retainer, be careful when handling it and be mindful of where it is at all times.

Thacker patient working with staff

Keep your smile straight with Thacker Orthodontics

Modern orthodontic wisdom now tells us that the most successful smiles may need to wear some type of retainer part-time indefinitely, but don’t let that worry you! With a little practice and some extra patience, your retainer will quickly become just another part of your daily routine. In some special situations, we may decide to use both permanent and removable retainers together to ensure no relapses occur, but we will discuss this with you first if we feel it would be a good fit for your smile.

Here at Thacker Orthodontics, we’re dedicated to finding exactly the right orthodontic treatment for you and your smile. This includes finding the type of retainer that will serve you best! From your first appointment to your last, our skilled staff is committed to meeting your orthodontic needs through every phase of treatment. We work hard to provide you with individualized, compassionate care and the best orthodontic experience possible, wherever you are in the orthodontic process. Get in touch with us if you have any questions or concerns about your treatment plan or retainer use. Our talented team will keep your teeth in place and a smile on your face!

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