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What is a Retainer?

At the completion of orthodontic treatment a custom made appliance will be fabricated using a model of your teeth on the day the braces are removed. Typically a retainer is fabricated using acrylic and a metal wire, the metal wire surrounds the front teeth and molar teeth and the acrylic fits either up into the top of your mouth or down along the tongue surface of the lower teeth. The advantage of this type of retainer is you can remove it to eat and brush your teeth. The disadvantage of this type of retainer is it can be misplaced or damaged if not placed in the retainer case when it is out of your mouth.

A fixed retainer is a metal wire which is bonded onto the tongue surface of the anterior teeth to hold spaces closed and to inhibit rotation of the anterior teeth after treatment. This type of retainer can be used in the upper or lower arch; however, this type of retainer is more often used in the lower arch. The disadvantage of this type of retainer is it is not removable and therefore it makes flossing the attached teeth a little more difficult.

Clear retainers are becoming more popular with the development of specialized clear materials that are vacuum formed over the models of your teeth upon completion of treatment. These retainers do not contain any metal wire, fit completely over your teeth like a glove and they are also removable.

Hawley Retainer

A universally used retainer with many applications: to move teeth, close spaces, maintain alignment during or after treatment. This is a common appliance for the upper arch.

Fixed Lower 3 X 3 Retainer

A lower 3 X 3 retainer is the most common type of retention appliance for the lower teeth. The lower 3 X 3 is a small wire which is attached to the tongue surface of the lower anterior teeth and is not removable. This type of retainer is expected to passively retain the teeth in the corrected position for a very long time.

Invisible Retainer

Well I guess you cannot see this one! Really it is not invisible but it is clear. This type of retainer fits over all the teeth like a glove would fit on your hand. It is a great retainer, but not the best for every patient. Dr. West will let you know the best option for retention for your individual case.

Does Everyone Get a Retainer?

We recommend retainers for all patients who have completed orthodontic care. During the active stages of treatment teeth are being moved within the bone surrounding the teeth. When your braces are removed you may notice that some teeth feel wiggly – this occurs because the bone needs time to “remodel”. Your retainers allow the bone the time needed to strengthen to its pre-orthodontic state; the retainers maintain the crowns of the teeth in their proper positions which maintains your pleasant smile.

How Long Will I Wear Retainers?

This is an important question which is often asked. Simply answered; “wear your retainers until you are willing to allow your teeth to become crooked again”. Most patients receive orthodontic treatment as teenagers, a time when they have not completed growth and development. Many changes occur quickly between the high school and college years. This is the most critical period for retainer wear. As you age you may notice a change in your size of clothing, the color and thickness of your hair, changes in vision or taste maturation; your teeth continue to undergo similar changes and will move during maturation periods if not retained and properly maintained.

When your teeth are straight and your smile is beautiful, Dr. West will remove your braces. At this time you will enter a critical stage of your orthodontic treatment – the RETENTION phase.

In order to maintain the exciting results you and Dr. West have achieved you will need to wear orthodontic retainers. Teeth must be retained - or held - in their new positions while the elastic membranes around the roots, the supporting bone, and the gums finalize adaption to the new tooth positions. If left without retainers, your teeth would eventually drift back to their pre-orthodontic position and all your time and efforts would be wasted.

Retainer Care

Upon completion of orthodontic treatment you will receive written instruction to take home that explain the use and care of your retainers. Dr. West will also review specific instructions for your individual retainer wear and care.

  • If you have an appliance which you can remove from the mouth, it should be cleaned by brushing with toothpaste. If you are wearing a fixed appliance extra care is required to brush and floss the teeth it is attached to during your normal tooth brushing.
  • Always bring your retainer(s) to each retainer check appointment and every Oral Health Evaluation appointment.
  • Avoid flipping removable retainers on and off your teeth with your tongue because it can damage your teeth. Whenever the retainer will be out of your mouth for an extended period (sports event, band performance or meals) place the retainer in the plastic case provided after removing it from your mouth.
  • Never wrap the retainer in a paper napkin or tissue because someone may throw it away. Don't put a retainer in your pocket without first putting it in your retainer case or you may break or lose it. Excessive heat will warp and ruin the retainer, so do not leave it in your car during the hot summer months. And lastly, do not leave your retainer where your dog may find it, dogs have destroyed many retainers.
  • Usually you lower retainer is fixed to the tongue surface of the lower teeth, it is important to advise the office if you notice any movement or looseness of this type of retainer.