Orthodontic treatment is a process of moving teeth from one position to another. In doing so, the bone and gum tissue surrounding the teeth have to adapt and adjust to the new tooth position.
The teeth are held into place by many microscopic elastic fibers. These fibers are spread all along the tooth and attach the tooth to the gum tissue, the tooth to the surrounding bone, and the surrounding bone to the gum tissue. They are like tiny rubber bands that hold the tooth in place but allow it to move when pressure is placed on the tooth. If the teeth were not allowed to move, they would crack and break when we bite down on them. These elastic fibers are like the springs and shock absorbers in your car, allowing the car to go over bumps and dips with relative comfort.
After a tooth has been moved through orthodontic treatment, it needs to be held into place. This is where the orthodontic retainer becomes a valuable tool in someone’s orthodontic treatment. Since the elastic fibers around the teeth have been stretched, they will tend to pull the tooth back to it’s original position unless resistance is applied to that tooth. This is the role of the orthodontic retainer.
And since teeth continue to move and shift throughout our lifetime, the orthodontic retainer is generally recommended to be worn many years, in fact many orthodontists recommend lifetime wear of the retainer at least at night.
There are two basic types of retainers: fixed or bonded to tooth (“permanent”) retainers and removable retainers which can be taken out to eat and clean.
Advantages of fixed retainers include:
1) they stay on the teeth all of the time;
2) you don’t have to remember to put them back on after eating.
Disadvantages of fixed retainers include:
1) they can be hard to clean around with brushing and flossing;
2) if they become loose, it can be uncomfortable and the teeth can move out of place quickly.
Advantages of removable retainers include:
1) they can be taken out while eating so there are no restrictions for types of foods eaten;
2) there is nothing in the way to prevent excellent oral hygiene and cleaning of the teeth.
Disadvantages of removable retainers include:
1) they can be taken out and forgotten or lost;
2) if not worn regularly, the teeth can move out of position.
Since retainers are such an important part of the orthodontic treatment, it is important to take good care of them. Well taken care of retainers can last many years. Patients report back that even 20 years later they are still wearing the same retainers they were given after they completed their orthodontic treatment.
Caring for orthodontic retainers is quite easy. Following are recommendations for the successful care of orthodontic retainers:
1) Brush the retainers daily with toothpaste;
2) Store the retainers while not wearing in a dilute mixture of mouth rinse with water;
3) Keep the retainers away from anything hot – like boiling water, the microwave oven, the dashboard of a car;
4) Keep the retainers away from animals, particularly cats and dogs.
Wearing orthodontic retainers will help to maintain the beautiful smile your orthodontist was able to give you. Taking proper care of your retainers will ensure they will last many years to allow you to continue to smile with confidence.