Braces 101 - Part 6

After the Braces Come Off - Retainers!

It has been months or years, and now your teeth look beautiful and are free! Or are they?

How Do They Take Braces Off?

Taking off your braces is easier and faster than you'd think. When your braces are ready to be removed, your dentist or orthodontist will clip the curve on the back of the braces with a special plier. This breaks the adhesive bond between the bracket and your tooth. While it does make a loud clipping sound, it doesn't really hurt.

As Dr. Echols in Florida explains "No, we don't pull them off. The plastic bonding material is simply fractured gently off the back of each bracket and all the brackets come off with the wire if the wire is left in place when we gently squeeze the bracket. It's physics, inclined planes, levers, fulcrums... weggie orthodontics."

Dr. Echols continues, "Each bracket is 'popped' off clean, which leaves a layer of the bonding plastic on the tooth. We then use a high speed handpiece to smooth the plastic off the teeth and polish the enamel where the plastic was removed, and finish up with a polishing disk to smooth the enamel."

What does it feel like to have your braces removed? Read what other ArchWired readers said in Braces Removal Stories!


The "R" Word: Retainers!

You have just spent several months or years, and a great deal of money and inconvenience, to have your bite corrected and your teeth straightened. Now the braces are gone! But you're not really done. You must wear a retainer to help keep your teeth in their new positions. It is very important to wear your retainer exactly as your orthodontist tells you, especially during the first year after your braces come off. This is because it takes about 9 months for your periodontal ligaments to "remember" their new positions. If you don't wear your retainer regularly, your teeth will shift! After the first year, many people wear their retainers at night, several nights per week, to ensure that their new smiles continue to look great.

There are three basic types of retainers: 






"Hawley" retainers. These are made of acrylic that is molded to your mouth, and contain a wire to hold your teeth in position (this is the most common type of retainer). The acrylic part is available in clear, and in a variety of colors and interesting designs, so you can "personalize" your retainer if you wish. 

Pros: It hold your teeth securely in position. Your orthodontist can bend the wires to do some final "tweaking" on your smile. 

Cons: The wire across your teeth is visible. It takes a few weeks to get used to wearing it.





"Essix" retainers made of clear plastic (similar to the Invisalign aligner trays or whitening trays). Some people love these, while others feel that they are too uncomfortable. 

Pros: It is virtually invisible on your teeth. It does not rest on your palate and is rather comfortable to wear. 

Cons: It does not allow your teeth to touch in a natural way. It cannot move teeth (no "tweaking" by your orthodontist). You must be careful not to warp it with hot water.




Permanent retainers are glued to the back of your teeth and are not removed. 

Pros: You cannot see the retainer. It retains the teeth perfectly and is often used in cases where large relapse may occur. 

Cons: It can bother your tongue and takes some getting used to. It can be difficult to floss the teeth bonded to the retainer (you will need a floss threader).

Your orthodontist can help you decide which type of retainer is right for you. Depending on your orthodontic treatment, your orthodontist may want to use one type of retainer over another. For example, the wires in a Hawley retainer can be bent to actively move your teeth like braces, if necessary. So, while you may want an Essix retainer, your orthodontist mayrecommend a Hawley or a bonded retainer instead. Talk to your orthodontist to find out more.

Whatever type you and your orthodontist choose, it's important to wear it regularly for as long as your orthodontist recommends. During the initial period (the first year after your braces come off) you will wear it 24/7 for several months. Later, your orthodontist will tell you that it's OK to wear it only at night -- every night. After another year goes by, you can wear it several nights per week. If you totally stop wearing your retainer, your teeth will shift, particularly if you had extractions. Why go to all this trouble and expense, only to screw up your teeth again? Don't be stupid or lazy -- wear your retainer!

Wondering how a Hawley retainer is made? There is a great slide show at the Harris Orthodontic Lab website that shows you!

Cleaning Your Retainer

How can your keep your retainer clean? You can brush a Hawley retainer with a toothbrush, but that isn't recommended for Essix retainers because brushing can scratch them. And after a while, brushing can become tiresome. You can use denture cleaner, but after a few months it will turn your retainer yellow. There are several retainer cleaning products designed just for this purpose. Four such products are SonicBriteRetainer BriteDentaSoak, OAP Cleaner, and Cleanse. Freshen. Go.

Retainer Brite and SonicBrite are both excellent products for cleaning your retainer.SonicBrite is a powder that comes with a battery-operated sonic cleaner bath. It works very well at getting white calculus build-up off of many types of dental appliances. People with Essix retainers and Invisalign -type aligners tend to like this system.

Retainer Brite comes in tablet form and can be used with our without a portable sonic cleaner. The advantage of this system is that the tablets are individually foil wrapped, which makes it easy for traveling.

DentaSoak is a Persulfate-free soaking solution that you mix once and use for an entire week. Just mix the pre-measured packets with cold water. DentaSoak comes with a special soaking bath that includes a handy lift-out tray. The advantage of this product is that it does not contain the chemical Persulfate (which causes an allergic reaction in some people), and it does not need to be mixed fresh every day.

Cleanse. Freshen. Go. is a convenient new concept in retainer and aligner cleaning. The Persulfate-free product comes in two forms: an individually wrapped retainer wipe, and a spray. You can use the wipe anywhere you need to instantly clean your retainer. The spray cleans your retainer in just a couple of minutes (afterward, rinse with cold water).

All of these retainer cleaning systems work very well at keeping your retainer smelling fresh and preventing white build-up. They can be used for either plastic and wire Hawley retainers, or Essix (clear plastic) retainers and Invisalign -type aligner trays. These products are available at Your orthodontist may also have samples of these products, so be sure to ask!

Lost Retainers?

Please don't make the mistake of losing your retainer at a restaurant! Get a proper retainer case! The standard tale of woe goes like this: a person went to a restaurant, forgot their retainer case and wrapped their retainer in a napkin. They forgot about the napkin and left the restaurant. The napkin got thrown in the trash. The person had to pay $150 or more to have another retainer made.

Many types of cases are available, both in hard plastic and soft-sided. Your orthodontist will probably give you a retainer case. But if you lose it, or want additional cases, sells a variety of retainer cases in many colors and styles, as well as "No Brainer" baggies.

Wondering how restaurant personnel feel about searching the trash for a lost retainer? Here's a story that appeared a few years ago in a website called "":

One night, while we were busy, a lady from one of my tables approached me to tell me that her teenaged daughter had lost her retainer. To wit, the girl had not brought a retainer case with her, and had wrapped her retainer up in a napkin, and when we bussed some dishes from the table, apparently the napkin-wrapped retainer had been carried off. This has happened a few times in the past, to much eye-rolling from those of us on the staff. Okay, no problem...we are busy, but we can handle this. manager and I grab some plastic gloves, tell everyone to stop throwing trash in the trash cans, and spend a good 10-15 minutes looking for the darn thing, digging through, well, nasty restaurant trash. Ugh. Periodically I update the lady about our lack of progress. She does not seem happy, but she is at least understanding that it is not OUR fault that this happened. Well finally, my manager (bless her perseverance) finds the buried treasure, and we rinse it off, return the trash cans to where the staff can start using them again, and (placing it in a plastic to go container so we don't have to touch it), return the retainer to the lady, feeling rather triumphant.

At this point, she asks, "But where is the other half?" 
ME: [blink blink] 
MY MANAGER: [blink blink] 
BOTH OF US: "HUH?!?!?!?!"

Yep, apparently this was a two part retainer (upper and lower), and in all that time while we had been digging through trash and updating them on what was going on, not one of the geniuses at the table bothered to tell us that we were looking for TWO pieces rather than one. At that moment, I felt perfectly capable of taking these people's lives. Remember, this was a BUSY NIGHT! Trying to contain our complete contempt for the mental capacity of these genetic defectives, my manager and I went BACK in the back to dig some more, and miraculously found the other half of the retainer.

The lady thanked us profusely, and was very nice about it, and after all that, after giving them good service to begin with and then bending over backwards to accommodate their double act of stupidity, what happened? (You can see this one coming, can't you?) Yep, after all that, this lady rewarded me with a "generous" 10% (or a bit lower) tip. And people wonder why I tend to be cynical regarding humanity's collective intelligence.

And finally, here is a great website with retainer advice just for kids:

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