Orthodontic Retainers: What You Need to Know

If you’re like most patients, you’ll be overjoyed when your braces come off or when you finish your last set of Invisalign aligners. You're done with orthodontic treatment... or are you? The reality is, once you're done with braces or aligner therapy, you’ve completed one phase of your orthodontic treatment, and now you’re ready to move onto the next: maintaining your results with a retainer. Wear your retainer as instructed for a dazzling smile that will last a lifetime, but forget to wear it, and you might just end up needing braces again.

More About Retainers

Retainers, as the name implies, are used to keep your teeth in place after you’re done with braces or aligner therapy. Braces and aligners move your teeth into proper alignment, but your retainers will keep them there.

Retainers come in a variety of forms and sizes. A Hawley retainer has an acrylic base that supports a wire that wraps around the fronts of your teeth to stop them from shifting. A bonded retainer is a thin metal wire that is bonded to the backs of the front teeth. Essix retainers, also known as clear retainers, are becoming more popular since they resemble clear aligners in appearance, but the plastic used to make them is stronger and more durable for a longer lifespan.

As your treatment with braces or Invisalign draws to a close, we'll start talking about retainer choices with you. The best option is determined by your orthodontic needs, personal preferences, and lifestyle.

What Happens When You Don’t Wear Your Retainer

To understand the importance of retainers, let’s talk about the anatomy of your mouth. A ligament holds each of your teeth in place—imagine them being like thick rubber bands attached to each tooth. Your braces or aligners will shift your teeth into proper alignment and bite, and in the process, the ligaments will stretch like a rubber band. When your braces are removed or aligner therapy is complete, the ligaments will try to snap back into their previous positions, moving your teeth with them. We call this orthodontic relapse.

Although orthodontic relapse doesn’t happen as instantaneously as a rubber band snapping, even forgetting to wear your retainer for a week or so will cause your teeth to shift—and you’ll have no doubt that your teeth have moved because when you put your retainer on again, it will feel tight and uncomfortable. Leave your retainer out for longer than this and you might find that it doesn’t fit anymore when you try to wear it.

After spending so much time and money on your smile, you don’t want your teeth to shift back. The simple way to prevent this is to wear your retainer according to our instructions.

What to Do If Your Retainer No Longer Fits

If you haven't worn your retainer in a few weeks or months and it no longer fits, make an appointment with us as soon as you can. We may be able to fabricate a new retainer that can make minor adjustments to move your teeth back into alignment.

If it’s been years—or even decades!—since you’ve worn your retainer and you’ve experienced orthodontic relapse, you’re not alone. We treat many adult patients for their second round of orthodontics. Invisalign is an excellent option in these situations. Once you’ve completed aligner therapy, your older, wiser self will be sure to wear your retainers and maintain your results!

Questions About Retainers? Call us

Do you have questions about your retainer? Contact Lake Minnetonka Orthodontics at one of our three Minneapolis area locations to schedule an appointment.

Minnetonka: 952-938-1443 

Excelsior: 952-474-0288

Wayzata: 952-473-1993