There are two main types of retainers that are given to you by your orthodontist after your tooth straightening treatment is complete.
Removable retainers – ‘Essix’ retainers which are clear plastic moulds that slot around teeth and look a lot like Invisalign aligners. There are also the older type e.g. Hawley retainers that come in the form of traditional appliances with wires that go across the teeth and are fixed to a plastic plate, which fits to the upper and/or lower teeth. Both Essix and Hawley type retainers are designed to be worn at night.
Fixed retainers – A thin, discreet wire, which is permanently fixed onto the backs of teeth.
It is easy to treat retainers as an after thought but they are essential in keeping your teeth in line once treatment is complete. The orthodontic profession recommend that you wear your retainers for life. Adults who have had braces as a teenager, and have lost or not worn their retainers, often find that their teeth start to move. Many of the adult patients we see have had braces before but found that their teeth had started to shift due to not wearing a retainer regularly in the past.
How and why does this happen?
The teeth that you have on show are part of a much longer structure that is rooted into the jaw. When you have braces, your teeth are being moved into a new, more desirable or healthy position but here’s the thing, teeth have memory. If left unguarded, it is highly likely that they will eventually try to move back towards their original position, particularly as you get older. New movements can also happen usually in small increments over many years. The British Orthodontic Society created a ‘Hold That Smile’ campaign around retention and created this short animation which explains more.
Taking care of retainers
Whether you have a fixed retainer or were provided with a removable one, it is important that you look after it so that it continues to serve you well. For example, when it comes to removable retainers, I recommend that you clean them after every use and use ‘Retainer Brite’ solution (which is needed at the end of treatment) as often as you can. I also recommend storing retainers away from direct sunlight and heat. It is easy for the plastic to get warped and become ineffective. With fixed retainers, interdental brushes and thread-through floss (known as Superfloss) are great tools to help keep food debris out of the nooks and crannies and support a healthy mouth. Your dentist or orthodontist can help you repair a wire or replace your retainer if it begins to lose its shape after a time.
To summarise, whatever course of orthodontic treatment that you take, wearing your retainer afterwards is essential in maintaining all of that good work.