What Is The Essix Retainer?
Your braces are off and your teeth look straight and beautiful, but how do you make sure they stay that way? Retainers are an important part of orthodontic treatment. No matter what type of braces you had, you will need to wear a retainer.
The retention phase of orthodontic treatment lasts a lifetime. The only way to prevent teeth from shifting and becoming crooked again is to wear the retainer your orthodontist has prescribed.
The Essix retainer is a name many dental offices are familiar with, but it’s really a brand of vacuum-formed retainers. “Essix retainers are one brand of plastic retainers,” explains Pennsylvania orthodontist, John Buzzatto, DMD, MDS, and President of the American Association of Orthodontists. “Vacuum-formed retainers come in different thicknesses to be used for different indications.”
Essix retainers are a clear, almost invisible style of retainer that is similar in appearance to Invisalign.
What Are My Retainer Choices?
There are two other main types of retainers in addition to vacuum-formed retainers, permanent and Hawley retainers. Permanent retainers are fixed in place and cannot be removed by the patient. Hawley retainers are removable, but have a plate that fits over the roof of the mouth and a wire that goes in front of the teeth.
Vacuum-formed, or Essix retainers, are both removable and less visible than Hawley retainers. Like the other types of retainers, they offer both advantages and disadvantages.
Advantages – “Vacuum-formed retainers are totally clear. They cover all sides of the teeth including the cheek side, tongue side and chewing surface,” explains Dr. Buzzatto. There are no wires, and the appliances can be removed, so they don’t interfere with eating or oral hygiene.
Some patients find the clear appearance more appealing, although another advantage of the Essix retainer is that it may also only need to be worn full time for a short period of time. “There’s really no scientific information out there on the effectiveness of wearing the retainer full-time, so I ask my patients to wear it all the time for the first 24 hours and after that, only at night,” explains Buzzatto.
Another advantage is that, since it’s only worn at night, the appliance is almost impossible to lose. It can also offer protection for patients who grind or clinch their teeth. “Dentists often make a bruxing splint for adult patients who grind their teeth at night. Although the splints are thicker, they are very similar to vacuum-form retainers,” says Buzzatto.
These retainers may also be less expensive than the other types of retainers.
Disadvantages – In some cases, the advantages of an Essix retainer may be considered disadvantages by certain patients. Some individuals may be bothered by the fact that they have something in between the upper and lower teeth, and may require a period of adjustment to get used to the appliance.
Since the teeth don’t touch, some orthodontists believe this type of retainer makes it difficult for teeth to “settle.” There is also a risk that Essix retainers can crack or break, especially when a patient is a vigorous tooth-grinder. The retainers should be checked periodically for problems and may need to be replaced if damage occurs.
The fact that Essix retainers are removable means their effectiveness is reliant on patient compliance. In order for the appliance to do its job, patients have to be willing to wear them as prescribed by their orthodontist.
Essix retainers are growing in popularity, at least in U.S. markets. Buzzatto says that although Hawley retainers currently remain slightly ahead of vacuum-formed retainers in terms of popularity, the trend is turning. In the future, we may see the use of vacuum-formed retainers surpass that of Hawley retainers.
Caring For Your Retainer
Some patients complain the plastic appliances are difficult to keep clean. Special cleaning tablets are available from the DENTSPLY company that makes the Essix retainer, but many dentists recommend simply brushing the appliance daily with a toothbrush and soap. Using toothpaste on your retainer is not advised, since the abrasives in the toothpaste can damage the appliance.