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What Does a Retainer Do?

By December 28, 2022 August 13th, 2023 No Comments
a person holding retainer with tweezers

Congratulations! You’ve made it to the home stretch and your braces are about to come off. It seemed like forever, but the time has finally arrived. Now it’s time to pick out the retainer you’re going to wear following your braces treatment. What does a retainer do, you ask? 

I’m going to answer that and a whole lot more. I want to ensure that you choose the right one because you’re likely going to be using it to some degree for the rest of your life.  Firstly, you will want to get familiar with all the teeth straightening options. But before you sink your teeth into the different retainer options available to you, let’s first define retainer and explore its function.

What Does a Retainer Do: What to Know

What does a retainer do and why is it important? Well, without your retainer, your straight teeth are bound to shift around following the removal of your braces, thereby negating all the trouble you just put yourself through.

Retainers are much more comfortable compared to braces. There is far less going on by design, as they are only intended to maintain all of the work your braces did. And in doing so, retainers can also prevent other dental concerns from arising. Also, to keep your retainer in check, look for an efficient retainer cleaner and learn how to clean retainers.

They keep your bite in place, reduce jaw pain, and help to keep your teeth healthy and strong. You have to make it a habit to wear your retainer as instructed and take really good care of it. In doing so, you can look forward to maintaining your beautiful, straight teeth.

a person holding a box with retainers

How Does a Retainer Work?

Before you decide on a retainer type, it’s important to understand the main reason for wearing them. So, what is a retainer and how do retainers work? Dental retainers are orthodontic appliances that are designed to keep your teeth from shifting after your braces come off.

Retainers help your teeth settle into your jawbone and soft tissue without getting out of place and becoming misaligned all over again. Each of the retainer types we’re about to go over serves the same purpose but is created differently. 

What works best for you might not be ideal for the next person. Your orthodontist will likely discuss different retainers’ designs and functions so that you choose the best one for your needs.

To give you an idea of what’s in store following your braces treatment, let’s explore the different retainers used to keep teeth in place.

Bonded Retainer

Think you might have a hard time remembering to keep your retainer on your teeth after braces? You certainly wouldn’t be the first. It can be a hard habit to get into for some people. The problem is, you’re putting your straight teeth at risk.

Fortunately, there is a fix for your forgetfulness. Thanks to a bonded, or fixed retainer, your orthodontist can attach your retainer to your teeth using a composite resin compound. This stuff looks and feels like real teeth when it hardens, so you won’t have to worry about losing this retainer. 

Another key benefit that patients love about fixed retainers is that no one can see them. Since they are bonded to the back of your teeth, they are completely out of sight. 

Even better, their upkeep is very minimal compared to other retainer types. You never have to worry about misplacing it, either, since it’s essentially cemented in place. 

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, though. If you love to floss, it’s about to get a whole lot harder. After all, there’s a thin metal bar behind your teeth now. This wire retainer is also susceptible to breaking if you aren’t careful chewing your food.

You will eventually get into the habit of knowing where to bite down with force and where to take it easy. But it’s still a potentiality that you need to be mindful of for a while.  

All said, if you’re the forgetful type, opt for a bonded retainer. You’ll be glad you did when you see the difference it makes in keeping your teeth straight. 

Hawley Retainer

The Hawley retainer is the most common type used after orthodontic treatment. This plastic and metal retainer is custom-made just for you, providing you with a snug fit that will keep your teeth in place.

As a removable retainer, Hawleys are susceptible to heat or impact. It is very important to handle this retainer with care and keep it from getting too hot. It’s possible for a Hawley retainer to lose its shape and no longer serve its purpose.

Moreover, retainers are quite costly to replace. As long as you do your part to keep it clean throughout the day and keep a close eye on it, you can look forward to your retainer lasting.

Hawley retainers work by using metal wires to keep your teeth in line. They are designed so that your orthodontist can make adjustments as your teeth settle. You should expect to wear this retainer after braces for a couple of years.

Your orthodontist will likely have you wear your Hawley retainer for as much as 18 hours a day starting out. After you have done so for a few months, you should be directed to reduce the amount of time the retainer needs to be on.

Ready for a confident, healthy smile?

Clear Plastic Retainer

Unlike other types of retainers, the clear plastic variants don’t use any metals. So not only are they far less noticeable in your mouth, but they are also much more comfortable. 

The most important thing to remember with clear plastic retainers is that they need to be kept clean at all times. Failure to do so can result in your retainer smelling something awful.

This is because clear retainers are porous by design. As you eat, bacteria forms in your mouth. And since clear plastic retainers can absorb this bacteria to some degree, you could end up with a serious breath issue. 

The good news is that you don’t need to buy a special cleaning solution to keep plastic retainers clean. All it takes is some water to ensure that your clear retainer is clean of bacteria and debris.

With that being said, you never want to use hot water on clear plastic retainers. Too much heat can warp them, ruining their snug fit and making them useless. Get into the habit of using cold water only and you and your retainer should be in good shape.

clear aligners on the white background

Settling and Relapse

When your braces finally come off, you are sure to have every intention of wearing your retainer as instructed. You’re excited about your straight, beautiful teeth and want nothing more than to maintain their appeal. But then time passes and something happens. 

You realize you’ve not worn your retainer in days; maybe even weeks. You begin to look around for it and can’t even remember where you had it last!

This scenario is all too common. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it any less serious. You are putting your newly straightened teeth in jeopardy by not wearing your retainer.

After your braces have been off for a while, your teeth naturally begin to settle. This can result in shifting and becoming misaligned to varying degrees. Your retainer is what prevents this from happening, so it’s vital to your teeth (and your wallet) that you follow your orthodontist’s instructions and wear your retainer.

Many patients relapse and toss their retainers to the side. Fortunately, there are safeguards in place that can correct the effects of this. If you forget to wear your retainer and begin to notice that your teeth aren’t as straight as they once were, it means you should be wearing it more often.

You should contact your dentist at this point, as you may need to have a new retainer made to fit your teeth. It might be wise to inquire about permanent retainers so you won’t have to worry about this happening again.

Staying in Place

One day, you wake up and notice that your teeth don’t feel quite right. Suddenly, you realize that they aren’t as straight as they used to be. 

This is what happens if you don’t wear your retainer.

As a vital counterpart to braces, your retainer is designed to keep your teeth in place after your braces come off. Without a retainer, your teeth can shift out of place and become misaligned. 

This is why it is so important to get into the habit of wearing your retainer regularly and as directed by your dentist. The last thing you want is for all that time it took to straighten your teeth to go to waste.

a person putting on the retainer

Make no bones about it; moving your teeth takes some serious work. Just because your braces are off doesn’t mean that your teeth want to stay straight. They need the work of a retainer to keep them in line – literally!

If you let your teeth do what they want long enough after your braces are removed, there’s a possibility that you might need braces all over again. Who wants to go through that? It was likely hard enough to get used to having metal strapped to your teeth the first time around.

Bottom line: wear your retainer and make it a regular part of your life. Once you get used to it being part of your everyday routine, wearing your retainer will feel as natural as putting on your socks.

Fixing Other Dental Problems

Aside from teeth straightening, retainers provide dental care in other ways. Many patients who need braces have a misaligned bite that results in jaw pain and difficulty eating foods comfortably. 

Your teeth retainer serves to remedy these issues by ensuring that your orthodontic work is maintained. Without a retainer, your bite could slip back out of place and cause you to need further treatment to correct your dental problems.

Additionally, retainers help prevent your teeth from drifting too far apart or too close together. When this happens, it can make it difficult to keep your teeth properly cleaned or result in jaw and dental pain.

Thankfully, retainers keep your teeth exactly where they are supposed to be following treatment. By not deviating from wearing your retainer, your teeth will stay where they’re supposed to. Not only will they look great, but they will function better, too.

a woman visiting the dentist

Who Should Wear One

Most adults and children will be directed to wear a dental retainer following the removal of their braces. If you are told that you need to wear one, it’s important that you follow your orthodontist’s instructions to the letter. 

Everyone’s teeth are going to go through some degree of shifting throughout their life. It’s just a natural occurrence that we all face. This can become even more prominent after completing braces treatment.

Now that your teeth have been forced into a new position, they are going to want to return to their original place in your mouth. But if you wear a retainer, you can prevent this from happening and keep your teeth looking beautiful and straight.

Getting Fitted for and Wearing a Retainer

Getting fitted for your new retainer is a fairly straightforward dental procedure. Your orthodontist will first make an impression of your mouth and teeth to ensure that your retainer fits like a glove. 

A full examination will also be conducted to check for any issues that might need to be addressed prior to wearing a retainer. Your orthodontist is also likely to take pictures and X-rays, as this will give them the best information to go by in crafting your retainer. 

When your retainer is finally ready and you begin to wear it, you may experience some discomfort for the first few days. This is natural and happens to many patients, so don’t be alarmed or worried.

If, however, the discomfort persists and the pain increases, you should contact your dentist right away. The same is true if you notice that your retainer is causing your gums to bleed. Something is off about your fit and needs to be addressed immediately. 

Once you get comfortable wearing your retainer, it’s important to continue wearing it. Your orthodontist will know for certain based on your needs, but many people have to wear a retainer for the rest of their lives. 

While it’s likely that you can get to where you don’t have to wear it during the day, you should at least wear it throughout the night while you sleep. This will help to ensure that your teeth remain straight from here on out.

Ready for a confident, healthy smile?

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