Here at Coleman Orthodontics, we aim to give you an unforgettable experience from start to finish—and beyond! Your treatment with us doesn’t end once your braces come off or you use the last clear aligner. The retention phase will help round out the process and maintain your beautiful new smile, but many patients still underestimate the importance of regular retainer use.
Even with treatment from an expert team like ours, your results won’t last forever without a little help! That’s why retainers are an essential part of every treatment plan. Let’s take a closer look at how they work and how you can care for your retainer when the time comes!
What is a retainer? How does it work?
A retainer is a simple orthodontic appliance that helps to keep your teeth in their new positions following the active phase of treatment. Wearing a retainer regularly will help you avoid something called “relapse,” which is the natural tendency our teeth have to drift over time. While relapses occur mainly in the late teens and early twenties, they can happen at any time. This is true even for patients who have completed orthodontic treatment.
Our teeth have long memories, and they’re always trying to get back to their original places in the mouth. If there’s no pressure on them, they’ll begin shifting towards those spaces. In the active phase of treatment, we can achieve that pressure with braces or clear aligners. Once this initial phase is complete, we’ll switch to using a retainer to prevent a relapse from happening.
Once your treatment is complete, Dr. Coleman will provide you with a customized retainer. You should always wear it exactly as directed! Neglecting to wear your retainer regularly can undo all your hard work and may eventually require touch-up treatment. If you experience a severe relapse, it may even be necessary to repeat the entire treatment process.
The basics of caring for your retainer
Your retainer will spend a lot of time in your mouth, which means it will have plenty of exposure to all the bacteria, plaque, and food debris that exists in there. Dr. Coleman will let you know exactly how often you need to clean your specific retainer, but it’s a daily occurrence for most patients. There will probably be days that you forget, and that’s okay as long as it’s just an occasional thing! However, you should know the signs that indicate your retainer is overdue for a cleaning, including a bad taste or smell, a cloudy appearance, or white spots.
How to care for different types of retainers
Before you decide on a cleaning routine for your retainer, you’ll need to understand more about the specific kind you have. There are three main types of retainers, which we’ll outline here for you.
A fixed retainer is composed of a thin wire that is positioned across the interior surface of the lower or upper front teeth and bonded into place with glue. This set-up is incredibly efficient at keeping newly straightened teeth in place, and fixed retainers tend to have the best outcome overall. Patients also never have to remember to wear it or worry about losing it since it stays in the mouth!
Good oral hygiene is important for everyone, but you’ll need to pay special attention to brushing and flossing around a fixed retainer. Angle the toothbrush properly and clean the surface of every tooth, taking special care with the area behind the fixed retainer. You’ll want to brush thoroughly but gently to ensure the metal wire isn’t damaged.
Flossing with a fixed retainer can take some practice! Dental tools like oral irrigators, floss threaders, and orthodontic dental floss can help clean the hard-to-reach areas between the wire and the teeth. Our team will also be happy to provide you with advice or give you a demonstration if needed.
You’ll want to avoid or moderate the consumption of certain foods if you have a fixed retainer, including crunchy or sticky snacks. These can damage the wire, which may need to be repaired or replaced. Visiting your dentist regularly will help keep plaque and cavities under control, so you can have a healthier and straighter smile.
Hawley retainers are kept in place by a wire that wraps around the teeth, which is then combined with an acrylic arch that rests against the roof of the mouth. While many orthodontists have been moving away from Hawley retainers in recent years, they can still be useful for some patients.
If you’re given a Hawley retainer, you’ll need to clean it daily using a soft-bristled toothbrush and non-abrasive toothpaste. This will help remove plaque and bacteria from it, but if you’re looking for a deeper clean, you can also soak the retainer in denture cleaner for a short period. Be sure to keep your retainer away from extreme temperatures! Washing it in very hot water or leaving it in a hot car can warp the material and affect how the retainer fits in your mouth.
Essix retainers are popular with orthodontists and patients alike! They’re made from a transparent plastic material and look similar to the clear aligners we use to straighten teeth. The retainer is molded to the unique shape of your mouth and will last for quite a while with the proper care. Luckily, caring for Essix retainers is very simple!
You should always brush and floss your teeth before you put your retainer in. When you take it out, clean it right away so your saliva doesn’t have time to dry on the trays. There are cleaning solutions designed specifically for use with clear retainers, or you can brush yours with lukewarm water and a soft-bristled toothbrush. You can also mix mild dish soap with the water and scrub gently using a toothbrush or denture brush. For a deeper clean, the retainer can be soaked in a denture solution like Efferdent or Polident.
One downside to any type of removable retainer is how easy they are to misplace or lose! Whenever you take your retainer out, take care to put it in the appropriate case immediately and keep it stored in a safe place away from heat (and pets! Dogs in particular love retainers.)
Protect your smile with a retainer from Coleman Orthodontics
Most experts now agree that wearing some type of retainer is the best way to enjoy a lifetime of straight smiles! This recommendation can seem overwhelming at first, but remember that most retainer wear will be part-time and will become just another part of your day in no time at all. To learn more about how retainers work or schedule a FREE consultation with Dr. Coleman, get in touch with our Syracuse office today!