Undoubtedly, it is an exciting and overwhelming experience to have braces removed from your teeth after months or years of wearing them. However, that is not the end of your orthodontic treatment, and straightening your teeth using braces or aligners is only half the battle. The other half of the battle is keeping or "retaining" them that way, and that is where retainers come in.

Immediately after completing your aligner and braces treatment plan, your dentist will likely require you to wear retainers for up to 22 hours daily to maintain and improve your smile's appearance. Although learning that you need to begin wearing retainers can be confusing, there is no need to fret because a significant part of your orthodontic treatment is over.

At South Coast Dentistry, we offer different retainer options to our patients, depending on their individual needs and interests. If you need orthodontic treatment services in Aliso Viejo for the healthy and aesthetic smile you deserve, our experienced dentists are here for you.

What Retainers Are and How They Work

Wearing retainers is critical to your teeth’ straightening and alignment process. A teeth or dental retainer is a tailor-made plastic or metal device that you wear or put over your aligned teeth after a braces treatment plan to keep them in their new and well-aligned position in your mouth.

Although retainers can help with minor orthodontic issues, they cannot correct multiple tooth misalignment issues, and that is where braces come in to help you achieve a bright and healthy smile.

As the name suggests, the primary purpose of retainers is to "retain," or hold, your teeth in the ideal, correct position after alignment until they are firm enough to stand independently. Once braces come off or you stop wearing your Invisalign aligners, your bones, gums, and muscle tissues will require some time to adapt to the new change in your mouth.

Daily habits like grinding and chewing can pressure the newly aligned teeth, shifting them back into their previous position. However, once you begin wearing retainers, you can prevent this by maintaining your teeth in the ideal position in your mouth.

Common Types of Retainer Choices You Have

Your dentist could recommend three types of retainers to keep your teeth aligned for several years or a lifetime after your braces come out or once you stop wearing aligners. The retainers you choose among these three options explained below will depend on your unique orthodontic treatment plan and individual needs:

Permanent Retainers

Also known as fixed or bonded retainers, a permanent retainer stays on your teeth once the dentist fixes it using a glue-like bonding agent. Typically, your dentist will fix permanent retainers on the back of your six lower front teeth, making them more discreet and inconspicuous during treatment.

Although it could be challenging to maintain top-notch oral dental health when wearing them, permanent retainers could be an excellent option for you if you think you could forget to wear your removable retainers. Using a floss threader and interdental brushes could help you maintain proper dental and oral hygiene when wearing permanent retainers.

While the dentist will not restrict you from eating certain types of food if you have permanent retainers, you would want to bite sticky, hard, or chewy foods using your back teeth to avoid moving them out of position. Below are some of the advantages of using permanent retainers during your orthodontic treatment:

  • You cannot misplace or lose them.
  • They will not affect your speech.
  • They are not visible to people when laughing or talking.
  • Complying with the vital instructions of how and when to wear them is not an issue.
  • They can last for several years because they are not easily damaged.

Clear Plastic Retainers

Also known as Essix or Invisalign-like retainers, clear plastic retainers are another option your dentist could recommend to achieve your teeth’ alignment goals. Like Invisalign trays, clear plastic retainers are removable, and you can remove them whenever you want to eat or brush your teeth.

Your orthodontist or dentist will recommend how long you should have them in your teeth every day and how to wear them. The most common treatment routine is wearing them full-time every day and night during the first nine (9) months once your braces are out, followed by night-time only wear afterward.

Like Invisalign aligners, your dentist will need a mold of your teeth to help him/her create your custom-made plastic retainers. Some of the advantages of choosing a clear plastic retainer include the following:

  • It is less bulky and could be more comfortable than permanent retainers.
  • Wearing it will not affect your speech.
  • It is barely noticeable when you have them on your teeth.
  • It is easy to wear and remove it.
  • Easy to maintain proper oral hygiene.

Hawley Retainers

Also known as wire retainers, Hawley retainers are another removable option to help you maintain and improve your teeth’ alignment. Hawley retainers consist of a thin wire that goes across the front of your teeth and is held in place by a smooth acrylic or plastic material that fits around the back of your lower teeth or the roof of your mouth.

While Hawley retainers are more conspicuous than clear aligners, they are durable and last several years. Other advantages of these types of aligners include the following:

  • It is repairable when it breaks.
  • It is adjustable when you need a tighter or better fit.
  • Lower and upper teeth can touch the natural way while wearing it.

Your dentist or orthodontist will recommend the best retainer that he/she finds best for your unique dental condition. He/she could also recommend a combination of retainers, that is, wearing removable retainers on your upper teeth and permanent retainers on your lower teeth.

When speaking with your dentist about the most suitable retainer for you, it is wise to think about which will work best for your unique condition in the long run.

How the Dentist Makes and Fits Retainers on Your Teeth

The process the dentist will use to make your teeth retainers will depend on the option he/she finds suitable for your unique dental problem. Here is what to expect during the making and fitting of removable and permanent retainers, respectively:

Removable Retainers

The procedure for making removable retainers involves the following:

  1. Your dentist will take your dental impression, including your teeth' size and alignment, using special putty, a soft and moldable material that resembles playdough.
  2. The dentist will fix this putty in dental trays, which he/she will then insert over your teeth to imprint your unique teeth layout and bite into the dental putty.
  3. The dentist will send the imprint or mold to the laboratory technician to create your acrylic or plastic teeth retainer.

Unlike permanent teeth retainers, which the dentist will fix on your teeth during your first appointment, you must wait about a week once the laboratory technicians receive your imprint to prepare them. With new technology, many dentists can now create digital impressions as a substitute for the conventional ones mentioned in the previous paragraph.

During this procedure, your dentist will use a handheld device to capture pictures of your gums and teeth. Afterward, the dentist will use computer software to stitch these images together, generating a three-dimensional (3D) model or photographs of your teeth and mouth.

Permanent Retainers

Fitting permanent retainers on a patient's teeth is a simple and non-intrusive outpatient procedure. Here is what to expect if the dentist recommends that you wear permanent retainers as part of your orthodontic treatment:

  1. Your dentist will use a thin metal wire to measure the ideal placement of your newly aligned teeth accurately.
  2. Your dentist will then use dental glue to fix the wire in the proper and ideal position.

Although this process could take longer than creating your teeth mold for the removable teeth retainer, you will leave the dentist's clinic with them in place.

The Length of Time You Need to Wear Retainers

Whether you choose removable or permanent retainers, these dental appliances will be part of your life for a significant period, if not for the rest of your life. The answer to the question of how long you will need to wear your retainers is subjective because every patient has unique dental issues.

If your dental issues are minor, your dentist could recommend wearing the retainers full-time for the first two (2) to three (3) months. However, if your dental issues are severe, your dentist could recommend wearing your removable retainers full-time for at least nine (9) months, except when you want to clean your mouth or eat.

After nine months, your dentist could recommend wearing your retainer only at night or skipping a day or two without wearing them, which will not affect the progress of your orthodontic treatment. On the other hand, with proper care, permanent retainers can last over six (6) years without needing repair. However, once it reaches the end of its life cycle, you should see your dentist for a replacement.

Unless your orthodontic issue is minor, some dentists could recommend wearing or maintaining your retainers for the rest of your life (if possible), regardless of whether they are removable or permanent.

It is important to note that if you do not wear your removable retainers as directed by your dentist, your teeth will revert to their previous misaligned position. Also, when you skip wearing your retainer for a few weeks, your teeth could shift, meaning there are chances that your retainers will not fit your teeth properly anymore.

For the best results and to achieve the desired bite and smile, you must follow your dentist's instructions on how long and when to wear your retainers.

Importance of Wearing Teeth Retainers

The critical time you need retainers is the first few months after your braces come out. During this period, there are chances that a relapse (unwanted movement) can occur, shifting your teeth back to their original misaligned position. Aside from preventing this relapse, wearing retainers is a helpful orthodontic treatment for the following reasons:

It Can Help Stabilize Your Bite

Once your braces come off, your mouth, including bones and soft tissues like gums, needs time to adapt to this new position, and that is where retainers come in. Consistently wearing retainers can help your mouth's soft tissues and bones stabilize in their new proper position.

It Can be Helpful During Wisdom Teeth Eruption

Most people begin wearing braces as teenagers, before the eruption of their wisdom teeth (molars). When these teeth arrive in the late teenage years, they can move your aligned teeth out of proper alignment, leading to a condition known as crooked teeth.

Fortunately, this condition is preventable by wearing retainers once your braces come off to keep teeth in proper alignment even during wisdom teeth eruption.

How to Care for and Clean Your Retainers

Since you will need to wear your retainers for a significant period, it makes sense to care for them to increase their durability, especially the removable retainers. Proper cleaning of your retainer is essential to prevent bacteria buildup, which could cause it to break down and create a foul smell in your mouth.

Doing your best to avoid damaging your retainers is vital because that would necessitate a premature replacement.

Generally speaking, below is how to keep your removable and nonremovable retainers clean, respectively:

Removable Retainers

To avoid plaque buildup, brush your retainer regularly with a soft-bristled toothbrush with antibacterial soap and rinse it with lukewarm water whenever you remove it. If your dentist or orthodontist recommends it, you can buy a special soaking liquid (hydrogen peroxide) to soak or keep your retainers in whenever you are not using them.

On top of this, you want to follow the tips listed below to avoid losing or breaking your removable retainers:

  • Remember to remove your retainer whenever you want to eat or drink something other than water.
  • Do not chew when wearing your teeth retainers.
  • Do not wrap your retainer with a napkin because you could accidentally forget and throw it away.
  • Remove your retainer when going swimming.
  • Never put your retainer in a purse or pocket unless it is inside its special storage case.
  • Keep your teeth retainer far from your pets, like a cat or dog, because it could chew it.
  • Never keep your teeth retainer on a hot or warm surface like a stovetop because it can melt.

Remember to floss and brush your teeth and gums thoroughly before putting on your retainers to keep them clean and avoid plaque attacks.

Permanent Retainers

If you have fixed or permanent retainers, practicing proper oral hygiene, including daily flossing and brushing, is enough to keep them clean and plaque-free. Since you cannot remove a permanent retainer, your dentist will recommend using a floss threader to floss your retainer and the front side of your teeth.

Doing this could require some practice, but you will learn how to do it with time since it is a daily routine you cannot ignore. Also, remember to angle your toothbrush horizontally and vertically when brushing your teeth daily to remove any food particles or plaque buildup trapped around the retainer wires.

Whether you have removable or permanent retainers, scheduling frequent dental check-ups with your dentist could go a long way toward preventing cavities and other oral health issues.

Frequently Asked Questions About Retainer Treatment

Here are a few questions patients undergoing or considering orthodontic treatment will ask about teeth retainers:

  • How Much Do Teeth Retainers Cost?

Generally, retainers are affordable and will not cost much. In most cases, a dentist will include the cost of your retainers in the original orthodontic treatment plan. However, if you need to replace your retainers, it could attract an unplanned budget not included in your initial treatment plan.

Fortunately, removable retainers are inexpensive and could cost between $100 and $500 to replace. Also, some insurance companies could cover the partial cost of your orthodontic treatment, and others will not. You will be lucky if your insurer can cover a partial cost of your treatment, meaning you will spend less money from your pocket.

  • My Retainer is No longer Properly Fitting Over My Teeth. What is the Solution?

Sometimes, your retainer could become snug or loose, indicating that your aligned teeth have likely shifted. When that happens, you should schedule an appointment with your dentist or orthodontist as soon as possible. There is nothing you can do at home to make your retainer fit tighter on your teeth in that situation.

Once you schedule an appointment with your dentist, he/she can check it and your teeth's alignment to adjust it, if necessary, or make a new one if you have a removable retainer.

Find an Aliso Viejo Orthodontist Near Me

After dedicating your time and money to straightening your bite or teeth for the bright smile you deserve, finishing the orthodontic treatment by wearing retainers would be worth your time and commitment. At South Coast Dentistry, we would be happy to help you find the most suitable and effective retainer for you or your loved one once braces or aligners come off.

We invite you to call us at 949-274-9086 to speak to credible orthodontists in Aliso Viejo if you or your teenager need orthodontic treatment.