You can't correct a poor bite with braces or clear aligners overnight: Even the most cut-and-dried case can still require a few years to move teeth where they should be. It's a welcome relief, then, when you're finally done with braces or aligner trays.
That doesn't mean, however, that you're finished with orthodontic treatment. You now move into the next phase—protecting your new smile that took so much to gain. At least for a couple of more years you'll need to regularly wear an orthodontic retainer.
The name of this custom-made device explains its purpose: to keep or “retain” your teeth in their new, modified positions. This is necessary because the same mechanism that allows us to move teeth in the first place can work in reverse.
That mechanism centers around a tough but elastic tissue called the periodontal ligament. Although it primarily holds teeth in place, the ligament also allows for tiny, gradual tooth movement in response to mouth changes. Braces or aligner trays take advantage of this ability by exerting pressure on the teeth in the direction of intended movement. The periodontal ligament and nature do the rest.
But once we relieve the pressure when we remove the braces or aligners, a kind of “muscle memory” in the ligament can come into play, causing the teeth to move back to where they originally were. If we don't inhibit this reaction, all the time and effort put into orthodontic treatment can be lost.
Retainers, either the removable type or one fixed in place behind the teeth, gently “push” or “pull” against the teeth (depending on which type) just enough to halt any reversing movement. Initially, a patient will need to wear their retainer around the clock. After a while, wear time can be reduced to just a few hours a day, usually during sleep-time.
Most younger patients will only need to wear a retainer for a few years. Adults who undergo teeth-straightening later in life, however, may need to wear a retainer indefinitely. Even so, a few hours of wear every day is a small price to pay to protect your beautiful straightened smile.
If you would like more information on orthodontic retainers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
While retainers are often viewed as a nuisance, they’re crucial to protect the gains made with bite correction. Without them, all of the progress achieved through braces or clear aligners could be lost.
Here’s why: The same elastic gum tissue called the periodontal ligament that holds teeth in place also allows them to move incrementally in response to changes in the mouth. That’s why we can move teeth with braces or aligners, which put pressure on the teeth toward a desired direction of movement while the periodontal ligament does the rest.
But the mechanics can also work in reverse: With pressure relieved when the braces are removed, the teeth could revert to their original positions through a kind of “muscle memory.” The light pressure provided by a retainer is enough to keep or “retain” teeth in their new positions.
The best known retainer is a removable appliance. Initially, a patient wears it continuously and only takes it out during oral hygiene. Wear duration may later be reduced to night time only and eventually not at all, depending on a patient’s individual needs.
While effective, removable retainers do have some downsides. Like braces, they’re visible to others. And because they’re removable, they’re frequently misplaced or lost, leading to the added expense of a new one.
An alternative is a bonded retainer, a thin piece of wire attached to the back of the newly moved teeth to keep them in place. Because it’s behind the teeth it’s not visible—and there’s no misplacing it because only a dentist can take it out.
A bonded retainer is a good option, especially if a patient is immature and not as diligent about wearing or keeping up with their appliance. But it can make flossing difficult to perform, and if they’re removed or broken prematurely, the teeth could revert to their former positions.
If you decide to go with a bonded retainer, be sure you get some tips from your dental hygienist on how to floss with it. And if you decide later to have it removed early, be sure to replace it with a removable retainer. Either of these two options can help you keep your new and improved smile.
If you would like more information on bonded retainers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bonded Retainers.”
It’s been a long road with your braces, but now they’re finally off. Hopefully the first glimpse of your new smile more than made up for the time and effort they required.
But while braces removal is a big milestone, it’s not the end of your treatment—not, that is, if you want to keep that new smile! You’ll now need to wear an appliance called a retainer for a few years or, in some cases, from now on.
Orthodontic retainers are a must after braces for the same reason braces work in the first place—your teeth can move. While the teeth attach to the jawbone via the roots, they’re firmly held in place by an elastic gum tissue network called the periodontal ligament. This tough but elastic tissue lies between the teeth and gums and attaches securely to both with tiny fibers.
While the ligament provides stability, it’s also dynamic—constantly remodeling to allow the teeth to move in response to biting pressure and other mouth factors. Orthodontists use this mechanism when moving teeth to better positions. The braces apply pressure on the teeth in the desired direction and the periodontal ligament responds as the teeth move.
Afterward, however, the ligament can still retain a kind of “muscle memory” for a time of the teeth’s old positions. Free of the pressure once supplied by the braces the teeth have a tendency, especially early on, to “rebound” to where they were.
A retainer helps prevent this by exerting just enough pressure to “retain” the teeth in their new positions. In the beginning this may require wearing the appliance around the clock, but you may be able later to reduce wear time to just a few hours a day. Rebounding is unpredictable, so you should continue to follow your orthodontist’s recommendations on retainer wear.
Wearing a retainer may seem like a drag, but it’s absolutely essential. Being diligent about it will help ensure that the beautiful smile you and your orthodontist worked so hard to obtain stays with you for years to come.
If you would like more information on getting a new smile through orthodontics, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
Moving your teeth to a more functional and attractive alignment is a big undertaking. You can invest months — even years — and a lot of expense to correct a bad bite. But all that effort could be for nothing if your teeth return to their original positions.
The very aspect of dental physiology that makes orthodontics possible can work against you in reverse. Your teeth are not actually rigidly fixed in the bone: they're held in place by an elastic gum tissue known as the periodontal ligament. The ligament lies between the tooth and the bone and attaches to both with tiny fibers.
While this mechanism holds the teeth firmly in place, it also allows the teeth to move in response to changes in the mouth. As we age, for example, and the teeth wear, the ligament allows movement of the teeth to accommodate for the loss of tooth surface that might have been created by the wear.
When we employ braces we're changing the mouth environment by applying pressure to the teeth in a certain direction. The teeth move in response to this pressure. But when the pressure is no longer there after removing the braces or other orthodontic devices, the ligament mechanism may then respond with a kind of “muscle memory” to pull the teeth back to where they were before.
To prevent this, we need to help the teeth maintain their new position, at least until they've become firmly set. We do this with an oral appliance known as a retainer. Just as its name implies it helps the teeth “retain” their new position.
We require most patients to initially wear their retainer around the clock. After a while we can scale back to just a few hours a day, usually at nighttime. Younger patients may only need to wear a retainer for eighteen months or so. Adults, though, may need to wear one for much longer or in some cases permanently to maintain their new bite.
Although having to wear a retainer can be tedious at times, it's a crucial part of your orthodontic treatment. By wearing one you'll have a better chance of permanently keeping your new smile.
If you would like more information on caring for your teeth after braces, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
It’s a big moment after months of wearing braces to finally get a glimpse of your new smile. The crooked teeth and poor bite are gone — and in their place are beautiful, straight teeth!
If you’re not careful, though, your new look might not last. That’s because the natural mechanism we used to straighten your teeth may try to return them to their previous poor positions.
Contrary to what many people think, teeth aren’t rigidly set within the jaw bone. Instead, an elastic, fibrous tissue known as the periodontal ligament lies between the teeth and the bone and attaches to both with tiny fibers. Though quite secure, the attachment allows the teeth to move in very minute increments in response to growth or other changes in the mouth.
Orthodontic appliances like braces or clear aligners put pressure on the teeth in the direction we wish them to move. The bone dissolves on the side of the teeth where pressure is being applied or facing the direction of movement and then builds up on the other side where tension is occurring.
The ligament, though, has a kind of “muscle memory” for the teeth’s original position. Unless it’s prevented, this “memory” will pull the teeth back to where they used to be. All the time and effort involved with wearing braces will be lost.
That’s why it’s important for you to wear an appliance called a retainer after your braces have been removed. As the name implies, the appliance “retains” the teeth in their new position until it’s more permanently set. For most people, this means wearing it for twenty-four hours in the beginning, then later only a few hours a day or while you sleep.
The majority of younger patients eventually won’t need to wear a retainer once bone and facial growth has solidified their teeth’s new position. Older adults, though, may need to wear one from now on. Even so, it’s a relatively slight inconvenience to protect that beautiful, hard-won smile.
If you would like more information on retainers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”