Retainer Discipline: Why You Should Wear Your Retainers Faithfully after Braces

As the name suggests, retainers help to retain your teeth’s new position after you have had your braces removed. Wearing your retainers faithfully is a crucial part of your overall orthodontic treatment and should not be overlooked.

Keep reading to find out why you should be wearing your retainers faithfully.

Why Do I Need to Wear a Retainer?

retainer

To maintain retainer discipline, we need to first understand why retainers are required after you have had your braces removed.

After braces removal, your teeth are not permanently fixed in their newfound position [1]. Teeth constantly move and shift during our lifetimes. This is due to a few factors like:

  • Forces placed on teeth by the tongue, cheeks and lips
  • Genetics
  • Tooth loss
  • Age
  • Ligaments

Ligaments

To add on, ligaments are the elastic connectors that connect your teeth to your jaw [2]. While wearing braces, these ligaments are stretched when the teeth are straightened. However, due to the elastic recoil of the stretched ligaments, there is a tendency for the ligaments to pull the teeth back to its original position.

These ligaments will need time to be reorganised into your teeth’s new position. Therefore, wearing your retainer faithfully is important after having your braces removed. You do not want your newly aligned teeth to shift back to their original positions, especially after having gone through months or years of wearing braces.

How Do Retainers Prevent My Teeth from Moving?

types-of-retainers-retainer-discipline

Retainers work by holding the teeth in place. Think of retainers as a straitjacket, but for your teeth. It acts to restrict or inhibit unwanted tooth movement by confining the teeth to the shape of the retainer. There are two types of retainers - fixed or removable.

Fixed retainers

Fixed retainers are custom-made wires that are glued to the back of your teeth. They act as passive braces, holding the teeth in place so that the teeth are less likely to shift out of place.

Removable retainers

Removable retainers can be clear (e.g. Essix or Duran retainers) or can be fabricated with wires and with a thicker plastic (e.g. Hawley retainers).

Do talk with your orthodontist/dentist on the retainers that best suit your needs.

How Long Will I Need to Wear Retainers For?

duration-for-retainers

Different orthodontists/dentists will prescribe different retainer regimes. It is best to check with your doctor. In general, you will need to wear your retainer full-time for at least six months. During these first six months, the optimal wear-time each day is 22 hours. You may take your retainer out before eating or to brush your teeth.

I would often review my patients six months after their braces have been removed to see how they have fared with their retainer. If they have done an excellent job with wearing their retainers, I would advise them to then shift to nighttime wear only.

Often, I tell my patients that they have to keep wearing retainers so long as they want to maintain straight teeth even after they have switched to nighttime wear. Though it may seem like a big commitment, most of my patients get so used to wearing retainers that it becomes part of their nighttime routine. It no longer seems like an extra effort to them!

Taking Care of Your Retainer

retainers-care

While your retainer keeps your teeth aligned, you should return the simple favour of keeping it clean and well-maintained.

Retainers are an excellent breeding ground for bacteria. Plaque and tartar will also have the chance to accumulate. If you don’t clean your retainers and they harbour too much bacteria, it can potentially make you ill [3]! Therefore, it is important to clean your retainers every day to prevent bacteria from building up.

Here are a few simple tips to follow to keep your retainers clean:

  • Clean your retainers every day
  • To clean your retainers, use a brush with dish soap or regular toothpaste
  • Gently brush the plaque and debris away, then rinse it with normal tap water
  • To give your retainers a fresher taste, you may use retainer cleanser tablets such as Retainer Brite or a denture cleanser such as Polident

Other Important Tips For Retainer Care

Here are some other tips to help you care for your retainer:

1. Always store your retainers in the protective case

This case will be given to you by your dentist/orthodontist. It is tempting to wrap the retainer in tissue paper and put it in your pocket when you are out and about. However, this means your retainers may be prone to damage or worse, mistaken as trash and thrown out! The number one cause of lost retainers is usually the forgotten lump of “tissue paper”. Be sure that you do not forget this tip!

2. Keep your retainers away from pets

This may sound strange but pets, especially dogs, love to eat and chew on retainers! So, please, always store it in the protective case.

3. Take your retainers out when you go for a swim

The chlorine in the water can cause your retainers to discolour.

4. Bring your retainers with you when you visit your orthodontist/dentist for your reviews

This will help them to know how well you have worn your retainers. If they see fit, they may make adjustments to your retainers.

5. Avoid heat

Retainers are fabricated from plastic. High temperatures can cause the plastic to deform and change its shape. This will render the retainers to fit poorly and not perform its job at all.

6. Call your orthodontist/dentist if you lose your retainer

If you have lost your retainers, be sure to call up your orthodontist/dentist. Do this as soon as you can so that you may have your retainers replaced.

Conclusion

When you remove your braces, your teeth will start to shift back. A retainer will help keep your teeth from shifting. You should wear your retainers faithfully while your teeth are still settling into your gums. You should also make sure that you take care of your retainers and keep it clean to prevent bacteria from building up.

If you have trouble with your retainer discipline, you may want to talk to your orthodontist about getting yourself a fixed retainer.


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Dr Priscilla Lu is an orthodontist at The Orthodontic Clinic at Pacific Plaza in Singapore. She obtained her Bachelor of Dental Science with Honours from the University of Melbourne. Passionate about orthodontics, after graduation, she pursued further education and achieved a Master of Dental Surgery in Orthodontics from the National University of Singapore (NUS). Dr Lu's orthodontic treatments include early interceptive treatment for young children, comprehensive treatment from tweens to adults using fixed braces, Invisalign and lingual braces.

Read more from Dr Priscilla Lu in her Q&A here. 

 

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References:

1. Littlewood S, Kandasamy S, Huang G. Retention and relapse in clinical practice. Australian Dental Journal.

2. University of Pittsburgh University Marketing Communications Webteam. Periodontal Ligament - Functions | School of Dental Medicine | University of Pittsburgh. Pitt.edu.

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