What You Should Know about Retainers
Orthodontic retainers are an essential follow up component in the braces treatment process. After your braces are removed, you will be fitted with a custom made retainer that holds your teeth in their new alignment. Typically, patients will wear this retainer all day, every day for several months and then wear it only at night for a couple of years. Children may continue to wear a retainer longer to ensure their teeth don’t shift out of alignment as their jaw grows. Adults may only need to wear a retainer until their teeth, jaw, muscles, and ligaments are fully adjusted to staying in the correct position. However, some patients will need to keep wearing a retainer at night for many years or for their entire life to limit future shifting.
Occasionally, retainers are used to fix minor dental problems that don’t require a full set of braces. They are also used to help some children overcome speech problems or tongue thrusting. Retainers may also be fitted to address nighttime tooth grinding.
Types of Retainers
Retainers come in several different varieties, all of which are specially molded for a patient’s mouth. Transparent plastic retainers are inexpensive, fairly comfortable to wear, and almost invisible. These vacuum molded retainers fit over the teeth like an aligner tray and can be readily removed for eating and tooth brushing. They are prone to wear and tear and may need to be replaced once or twice a year.
A metal retainer has a plastic base that fits along the roof of the mouth and a wire that wraps around the teeth. The wire can be adjusted slightly to continue correcting crooked teeth or bringing the bite into better alignment after braces are removed. These retainers may be particularly helpful for patients who have had their teeth moved further apart. Hawley metal retainers have a visible metal wire along the front teeth. The ASTICS retainer uses a band of clear material that serves the same purpose but that may offer a more aesthetically pleasing appearance. Metal retainers will often last for a couple of years with proper care.
A fixed retainer is a wire that is cemented directly to the lingual surface of teeth (the surface facing the inside of the mouth). These are typically used on the bottom teeth. They may be removed after a patient’s wisdom teeth have been extracted and the orthodontist is sure not much movement will take place. Or, a fixed retainer may be left in place indefinitely. This type of retainer is not usually visible, but it does pose a problem for dental hygiene. Most patients find it difficult to floss under a fixed retainer wire properly. This can lead to gum disease and tooth decay.
Caring for Your Mouth While Wearing a Retainer
Retainers are much more comfortable than braces, so you should have no problem adjusting to this device. You may notices extra salivation until you get used to having the retainer in your mouth. You should not experience persistent irritation on your gums. If you do, this may be a sign that the retainer does not fit properly and needs to be adjusted.
With removable plastic retainers, you will need to clean the retainer according to your orthodontist’s instructions each time you brush your teeth. Soak it in water or mouthwash when it is not in your mouth so the plastic doesn’t dry out. When you clean a wire retainer, be careful not to bend the wires. Flipping the retainer with your tongue can bend or break the wires, so avoid picking up that habit. Whenever you take out your retainer, put it directly in its storage case so it doesn’t get lost, broken, or discarded. Most important, always wear your retainer for the time period recommended by your orthodontist to avoid having to get braces put back on later.
Cost of Retainers
The price of retainers varies depending on what type you need, but they generally cost several hundred dollars. The service fee from your orthodontist to fit you for a retainer may add to this cost. If you have a retainer that needs to be adjusted, these extra visits to the orthodontist will also incur a fee. If you lose or break a retainer, you will have to pay for a replacement.