What are the types of retainers?
To retain means to keep in place; therefore, an orthodontic retainer is used to keep your teeth in their new positions after your braces come off. Most orthodontists use one of these three types of retainers:
A clear plastic retainer (also called an Essix Retainer) is sometimes placed on the upper teeth one or two days after the braces are removed. It resembles the Invisalign appliance. It is normally worn only at night and lasts an average of 24 months. After it wears out the orthodontist may replace it with a traditional wire retainer. Some people have commented that this type of retainer can be uncomfortable.
A bonded retainer is normally placed behind the lower teeth after the braces are removed. It is a wire "permanently" bonded to the teeth with composite material. Sometimes this type of retainer is used for the upper teeth, but usually this is not possible because it would interfere with your bite. A bonded retainer will remain in place for several years.
A wire retainer (also called a Hawley Retainer) is normally placed after discontinuing use of either the clear retainer or bonded retainer. This type of retainer has the added benefit of being adjustable so that minor tooth movement is possible. Sometimes a wire retainer can be worn full time instead of braces to correct mild crowding. As you can see, the plastic part of the retainer can be made in a variety of colors and patterns.
Do I have to wear a retainer after my braces come off?
The short answer is: YES, absolutely!
The long answer is: It takes many months for your periodontal ligaments and bone to "remember" the new position of your teeth and keep them in place. The retainer helps keep them in their proper new positions. It's important to wear the retainer exactly as your dentist/orthodontist recommends. Otherwise, your teeth may shift, especially if you stop wearing your retainer in the first two years after your braces come off.
Most people wear their retainer 24/7 for at least 6 months to a year after the braces first come off. Of course, you must take your retainer out to eat or to to brush your teeth. Be sure to carry a retainer case with you to store your retainer when it is not in your mouth. Keep a few handy -- in your car, your purse, at work, etc. Many retainers have been lost in napkins at restaurants or school and thrown in the trash. A new retainer can cost as much as $300! There are also special "Retainer Maintainer" plastic bags with a "don't throw this out" symbol to use in a pinch. These are easy to stuff in your pocket, purse, or backpack "just in case."
After the initial period is over, your orthodontist will probably tell you that you can switch to wearing your retainer only at night. Be sure to wear it EVERY night for at least 4 to 6 additional months. After that, if everything seems stable, you can probably switch to wearing it only several nights per week (always be sure to ask your orthodontist what he or she recommends).
If you totally stop wearing your retainer, even after a few years, your teeth may begin to move and shift. This is especially true if you have tongue thrust issues or have had extractions. Unless you want crooked teeth again, or want to go back into braces, wear your retainer regularly for the rest of your life -- at least a couple of nights each week! This isn't as bad as it sounds. It just becomes part of your life -- another way to ensure that your smile stays beautiful and healthy!
If your retainer breaks, call your orthodontist immediately to have another one made. If you can't afford a new one, discuss this with your orthodontist and try to set up a payment plan or work out a financial arrangement.
How do I keep my retainer clean?
You should clean your retainer each night as directed by your orthodontist. If you are wearing your retainer around the clock, rinse it with warm water after taking it out of your mouth, and also before putting it back in later! This will help prevent bacterial buildup.
You can brush a Hawley retainer with a toothbrush and a tiny bit of toothpaste, but that is not recommended for a clear Essix retainer, as it can get scratched. Brushing also gets tiresome after a while. The most convenient way to keep your retainer clean is to use a product made for this purpose, or to use denture cleaner.
Several great specialty products are available to help keep your retainers clean and free of odor. Four such products are SonicBrite, Retainer Brite,DentaSoak, and Cleanse.Freshen.Go. They work great on all types of retainers and even clear Invisalign -type aligners. SonicBrite includes a portable sonic cleaner. Retainer Brite is a tablet which can be used with or without a sonic cleaner (sold separately). In both these products, the sonic cleaner helps the product to reach all the little crevices in your retainer, cleaning out all the bacteria and dissolving all of the white buildup.
DentaSoak works with cold water and one batch can be used for an entire week. Cleanse.Freshen.Go. makes convenient retainer cleaning wipes and and an instant cleaning spray which you can take with you "on the go." Both DentaSoak and Cleanse.Freshen.Go. do not contain the chemical Persulfate, which causes some people to have an allergic reaction. So, if you're looking for a retainer cleaner which is Persulfate-free, these two would be a good choice.