Orthodontic treatment (commonly known as braces) can be a lengthy process to re-align your teeth to a more functional and aesthetic position. Once the orthodontic devices are removed, however, the treatment isn't finished. Wearing a retainer is the final step to ensuring that the re-alignment doesn't eventually fail. It's designed to do just what its name implies — to “retain” the teeth's new position and prevent a relapse to the old.
This can happen because of the way teeth fit into the jaw bone. The teeth are joined to the bone by the periodontal ligament, which works somewhat like a hammock: the ligament's fibers act like threads that fit into the tooth on one side and into the bone on the other, and hold the teeth in place.
As living tissue, the ligament's cell structure is dynamic and can adapt to the gentle pressure applied by an orthodontic device. However, once this pressure subsides after the device is removed “muscle memory” can cause the ligament to resist the new position and pull the teeth back to their original setting. The retainer helps hold the teeth in the new position while the bone and ligament continue to mature and stabilize around the teeth.
There are two basic types of retainers; the one recommended for you will depend on your age and the extent of your orthodontic treatment. One type is a removable device that is typically worn around the clock initially, but may eventually only need to be worn at night or for even a lesser interval of time. The other type is attached permanently behind the teeth and can only be removed by an orthodontist. Permanent retainers have the benefit of not being as visible as the removable type, and there's no bother with putting them in and taking them out.
You may consider wearing a retainer a nuisance especially after months of orthodontic treatment. But consider it the last lap in a long race — only by finishing can you achieve that winning smile.
If you would like more information on the use of a retainer, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers” and “Why Orthodontic Retainers?”
A few days before the Oscars, Vanity Fair magazine asked Academy Awards host Neil Patrick Harris to name his most treasured possession. Was it his Tony award statuette for best leading actor in a musical? His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? The stethoscope he wore while playing teenaged doctor Doogie Howser on TV? No, as it turns out, the 41-year-old actor’s most treasured possession is… his wisdom teeth. Yes, you read that correctly. “Oddly, I still have my four wisdom teeth,” Harris said. “I refuse to let them go or I’ll lose my wise parts.”
How odd is it for a 41-year-old to have wisdom teeth? Actually, not that odd at all. While it is true that wisdom teeth are often removed, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to this. It all depends on whether they are causing problems now, or are likely to cause problems in the future.
The trouble wisdom teeth cause is related to the fact that they are the last molars to come in, and that molars are large in size. By the time wisdom teeth appear between the ages of 17 and 21, there often is not enough room for them in the jaw. Sometimes it’s because you may have inherited a jaw size that’s too small for your tooth size; and generally speaking, the size of the human jaw has evolved to become smaller over time.
If room is lacking, the adjacent molar (that came in earlier) can interfere with the path of eruption — causing the wisdom tooth to come in at an odd angle. The wisdom tooth can hit up against that other tooth, possibly causing pain or damaging the adjacent tooth. This is known as “impaction.” Sometimes the wisdom tooth breaks only partway through the gum tissue, leaving a space beneath the gum line that’s almost impossible to clean, causing infection. A serious oral infection can jeopardize the survival of teeth, and even spread to other parts of the body.
If a wisdom tooth is impacted, will you know it? Not necessarily. A tooth can be impacted without causing pain. But we can see the position of your wisdom teeth on a dental x-ray and help you make an informed decision as to whether they should stay or go. If removal is the best course of action, rest assured that this procedure is completely routine and that your comfort and safety is our highest priority. If there is no great risk to keeping them, as Neil Patrick Harris has done, we can simply continue to monitor their condition at your regular dental checkups. It will be particularly important to make sure you are reaching those teeth with your brush and floss, and that you keep to your schedule of regular professional cleanings at the dental office. All healthy teeth are indeed worth treasuring.
If you would like more information about wisdom teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”