What a great day! Dr. Johnson of Johnson Orthodontics has removed your braces or told you he didn’t need to order any more clear aligners for you. He pats you on the shoulder, congratulates you on doing such a great job with your orthodontic responsibilities, and lets you admire your new smile in the handheld mirror. Just as you’re about to get up to show the front desk team and the rest of the world your beautiful new smile, he says it’s time to make your new orthodontic appliance—your retainer—for the next phase of treatment.
Yes, you will have to wear a retainer if you want to maintain that perfect, healthy smile. But, before we talk about the actual appliance, let’s rewind a bit so you can understand WHY wearing a retainer is so important. The first step in understanding this is to understand the difference between active treatment and retention.
What Is Active Treatment?
Active treatment is the stage when you wear your braces or clear aligners. It’s when we actively make changes to your teeth and jaw alignment by applying pressure. That pressure softens the bones and ligaments in the mouth and stimulates a process known as “remodeling,” allowing for teeth movement. Once Dr. Johnson is satisfied with your teeth and jaw placement, he will conclude active treatment by removing or instructing you to remove any appliances that put pressure on the teeth.
What Is Retention?
Although active treatment may be over, your teeth are still not ready to be left entirely alone. Remember when we talked about the remodeling process? As your teeth move, the bone holding them in place breaks down and is reabsorbed to fill in the now empty spaces where your teeth once were. When you finish active treatment, the remodeling process is still taking place.
Retention is the phase directly after active treatment when Dr. Johnson focuses on keeping your teeth in their new homes. You see, your teeth have nostalgic memories about their previous spots, and they don’t really understand why we felt the need to move them in the first place. Since your mouth is still remodeling, your teeth can and will take advantage of how pliable your mouth is. What do we mean by that? Well, basically we mean that they will start shifting backward! This movement is called regression, and it is the reason why it’s so important to wear a retainer.
What Are Retainers?
Retainers are fixed or removable orthodontic appliances designed to do exactly as their name suggests—they retain your teeth in their new positions!
And, although we love seeing you at your appointments, we don’t give you a retainer as an excuse to keep you coming back again and again. It really is a critical tool on your journey to a beautiful smile!
Fixed retainers are made of metal and can only be removed by an orthodontic professional like Dr. Johnson. You won’t have to worry about remembering to wear it, but you might have some dietary restrictions and a slightly different oral hygiene routine. Fixed retainers need to be worn for a minimum of one year and Dr. Johnson will advise about its longevity and care.
Unlike fixed retainers, removable retainers should be removed for eating, drinking, and oral hygiene. This retainer type comes in two different styles, the Hawley and the Essix. The traditional Hawley retainer is likely what most people think of when they think of an orthodontic retainer. It has an acrylic base with a metal wire on the front of the teeth. The Essix retainer, on the other hand, is transparent and looks almost identical to a clear aligner.
Which one is best for you depends on your unique situation. These days, most patients are given the Essix retainer as it is very comfortable and discreet. We can even make them right here in our very own lab using a 3D printer!
What Happens If I Don’t Wear My Removable Retainer?
Because removable retainers are, well, removable, users are responsible for wearing them as directed. Neglecting or forgetting to wear your retainer, especially during the first few months of retention, gives your teeth the space and freedom they need to regress. We know it may have felt like forever getting your teeth to shift into their new positions, but it can take as little as one day for teeth to become noticeably displaced again! If your teeth regress enough, you might have to consider starting the entire process over again.
Okay, Okay, I’ll Wear It. But For How Long?
Typically, you will wear your retainer 24/7 for the first six months after you finish active treatment. You should only remove the retainers to eat or brush. The next six months require you to wear your retainers in the evening and at night, about 12 hours per day. After a year has passed, you can switch to wearing them only at night when you go to bed.
Retainer wear is for a lifetime, but don’t worry, they’re built to last provided you take good care of them. This means being gentle with them and keeping them clean and in their protective case whenever they’re not in your mouth.
We know that you put in a lot of hard work during your orthodontic journey and we don’t want it to be for nothing! It’s crucial that you take retention seriously to keep your teeth in their perfect new positions and prevent them from shifting back!
More Retainer Questions? No Problem!
Transitioning into the retention phase can be discouraging after the excitement of finishing treatment. It may even be confusing. But it doesn’t have to be! Our team at Johnson Orthodontics has all the answers to your questions to make the retention phase as simple and pleasurable as possible.
We’ll help you retain your new smile by helping you retain all the information related to your retainer! Whether you’re a new patient who wants to know more about the phases of treatment, a current patient about to enter the retention phase, or a retention patient in need of a new retainer, we can help! Contact us today to speak to a helpful member of our staff. If necessary, they can help you book an appointment or a free consultation.
We’re so excited to help you improve and preserve your alignment for years to come, and we can’t wait to get started. Johnson Orthodontics hopes to see you soon!