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Understanding Retainers

 Understanding Retainers

Many people look forward to the day when their braces come off, and they smile straighter and happier than before. A retainer often is the final phase of the braces treatment and helps ensure your teeth will remain in place without shifting. Patients in Arlington and nearby communities in Massachusetts who would like to smile straighter or safeguard the treatment they received with braces can visit our orthodontist to learn more about retainers.  We serve communities like Arlington, Belmont, Cambridge, Lexington, Medford, Somerville, Watertown, and Winchester.


What are retainers?
Retainers are custom-made devices, made of plastic or wire, which hold the teeth in place after braces are removed. They are used to keep teeth in alignment while the surrounding hard and soft tissue adjusts to their new positioning and structure.


What are the different types of retainers?
Once we remove your braces, we will move into the retention stage of your treatment. Maintaining the results you achieved during the treatment phase is key to the success of the entire orthodontic process. Your retention phase will last for a minimum of 24 months. Your final orthodontic result depends on your retainers, so follow through with the hard work you've put in so far. A variety of retainers are available to treat different kinds of dental problems:

  • Hawley Retainers: The Hawley retainer, one of the most common types, is a removable retainer made of a combination of metal wires and sturdy acrylic, and is designed to keep your teeth in place. This retainer is specially made from impressions of your teeth so that it fits snugly and comfortably in the roof of your mouth, while any wire or acrylic framing keeps your teeth in perfect position. The acrylic can also be personalized with a large number of colors and/or patterns
  • Fixed Retainers: Bonded lingual retainers are cemented directly to the inside surface of your lower canines (eye teeth). This is one of the best ways to prevent your lower teeth from shifting as it is permanently attached! As with removable retainers, it is important to keep them clean. When brushing, carefully clean the inside of your lower teeth as well as the wire. If your retainer breaks at any time during the retention phase, please do not adjust it yourself. Call us immediately to schedule an emergency appointment
  • Essix Retainer: The Essix retainer is a clear removable retainer that fits over the entire arch of teeth. Essix retainers have no metal wires and are virtually invisible. They are very durable, inexpensive and easy to wear.


What are the advantages of retainers?
The greatest advantage of a retainer is that it holds the teeth in place once braces are removed and allows for a person’s bone structure to properly align without the possibility of teeth shifting. With fixed retainers, you will not have to do anything special to care for them since these retainers are already bonded in place. The greatest advantage with removable retainers is that they can be removed when eating and brushing.


What are the disadvantages of retainers?
The biggest disadvantage to a fixed retainer occurs when brushing and flossing around the retainer. If you do not practice good dental hygiene, it is easy for plaque and tartar to build up around the teeth affected by the retainer.
The main disadvantage of the removable retainers is that they may easily be removed, increasing the chances of loss or damage. It also may mean the production of extra saliva as your body adjusts to this new apparatus.


How long should a retainer be worn?
The length of time that you wear your retainer will vary depending on your own individual circumstances. In general, removable retainers are worn 20 to 24 hours during the day for a period of one to three months. After that period retainers are generally worn at night. Permanent retainers, or those that are bonded to the teeth, could remain in place for several years.
Retainers are an effective solution to helping ensure that teeth will not shift back into their original position prior to braces. They are easy to wear and require little to no maintenance, making them an easy choice for patients requiring orthodontic care.


One needs to consider some basic things while using a retainer:

  • Do not consume liquids with the retainer on: Excess liquid under the retainer trays can increase acid exposure and increase chances of decay
  • Do not eat wearing a retainer: food tends to get trapped in Hawley retainers and can damage the appliance. VFR retainers make chewing almost impossible when they are simultaneously worn on both jaws. All in all, it is best to remove your retainer when you eat
  • Wear your retainer as directed: retention phase of orthodontic is critical to maintaining the new shape and position of your teeth. Retainers are designed to give the bone, tissue and muscles time to stabilize the teeth in their new position. Failing to wear them could cause the teeth to shift back to their original position, putting all the effect of your orthodontic treatment in vain
  • Clean your retainer properly: Clean your retainer inside out to avoid accumulation of calculus and bacteria. VFR Retainers should be cleaned using denture cleaners or retainer cleaners. Hawley retainers can be cleaned with a toothbrush


How retainers are worn
Because teeth can continue to move throughout life, we feel that individuals who have undergone orthodontic therapy should wear retainers indefinitely. A patient should wear retainers all the time for one year following the removal of braces.
After approximately one year, the patient can wear the retainer just at night. This is to allow the wisdom teeth to develop without ruining the patient’s beautiful smile. Our orthodontist will see you every six to nine months to make recommendations on the wisdom teeth and an X-ray will be taken every one and a half years.)
Once the wisdom teeth have been decided on, wear your retainer at least one night per week. This is because, as you get older, the muscles that surround your teeth will get tighter and place pressure on your teeth, causing them to move or crowd.


How to care for retainers

  • Retainers are made of a thermoplastic material that is sensitive to excessive heat, so they should be kept away from heaters, dishwashers, car dashboards or any place where the temperatures exceed 115 degrees Fº
  • Retainers should be kept in the proper retainer case when they are not in the patient’s mouth
  • Keep away from any family pets, as they like to chew on them
  • Clean before and after placement in the mouth. Because the material used for fabrication is slightly porous, plaque tends to cling to the surfaces. Gentle scrubbing with a toothbrush and a mild liquid soap will remove the plaque. A denture cleaning solution, such as Efferdent, will aid in the removal of plaque and tartar. Be sure to rinse the retainers thoroughly after cleaning to remove any cleanser residue


Because retainers are worn for years, they will need periodic replacement. Your original treatment contract includes one set of retainers after the braces are removed. If the retainers are lost or damaged due to neglect, there will be a charge for replacement. If the retainers become loose or break, contact our office immediately.


Habits or Conditions that Require Stronger Retention

  • Mouth breathing
  • Clenching and/or grinding of teeth (muscle hyperactivity)
  • Tongue thrusting, low tongue posture or abnormal tongue posture
  • Playing a musical instruments with a reed
  • Lip sucking
  • Pen or pencil biting
  • Spacing between the teeth prior to treatment
  • Severely rotated teeth


Our goal is to help your smile stay beautiful and healthy for a lifetime. Your cooperation is essential in order to achieve this goal.


Dental examinations and cleanings
The patient should continue with proper oral hygiene procedures at home, to include thorough brushing and flossing techniques. His or her family dentist should see the patient at least every six months for cleaning and dental examinations. Maintaining a healthy, straighter set of teeth for life after braces is easy and convenient thanks to retainers. To find out more about this treatment option, call our Arlington dental office at 781-648-0279.