Getting your braces off is a moment you’ll look forward to, no doubt about it! But it’s not the end of your orthodontic treatment – you’ll need to wear a retainer for a while to keep your teeth aligned. There are several types of retainers on the market today, so which is the best retainer after braces for you and your great new smile? The final decision is up to you and your orthodontist, of course. Dr. Andy in Parma, OH (just outside of Cleveland) looks at the different types of retainers and discusses their pros and cons, so you can start thinking about what your teeth will be wearing next.
How Retainers Work
A retainer is an orthodontic device that keeps your teeth in alignment after your braces come off. The periodontal ligaments which hold your teeth in place won’t be permanently fixed in their new positions for almost a year after your braces are removed. So, if you don’t use a retainer – or you slack off – your teeth could shift again, moving out of alignment and possibly opening gaps in your smile.
Usually, orthodontists tell patients to wear a retainer 24/7 for a certain number of months, and then wear it only at night. After a few years, many patients reduce their retainer time to only few nights per week. But if you stop wearing a retainer for long periods of time, you may find out that your teeth have shifted and it the retainer doesn’t fit anymore.
Types of Retainers
There are 3 types of retainers currently available:
- Hawley Retainers
- Essix Retainers
- Permanent Bonded Retainers
Hawley Retainer – When you hear the word “retainer,” the Hawley retainer is probably what comes to mind. This is the traditional style of retainer, made from bendable wire and acrylic or plastic. The wire goes across the front of your teeth, and the acrylic is molded to fit perfectly inside your mouth. Hawley retainers are adjustable, so your orthodontist can “tweak” your tooth alignment a bit even after your braces are removed.
- Pros – Hawley retainers are adjustable and last a long time with proper care. These retainers are easy to clean, and because they’re removable, brushing and flossing are easy.
- Cons – Hawley retainers are visibly noticeable. Plus, this retainer is easy to lose. It needs to be taken out before eating, playing sports, and other activities – and it’s easy to forget to put it back in.
Essix Retainer – Essix retainers are made of molded clear plastic and resemble an Invisalign® aligner. People like this type of retainer because it is less noticeable than a Hawley retainer. However, they don’t allow your top and bottom teeth to touch, like they would naturally.
- Pros – Essix retainers are virtually invisible on the teeth.
- Cons – Essix retainers have a fairly short lifespan and wear out after a few years. In addition, the interior surfaces of these retainers can be difficult to clean, and they can trap liquid against the teeth, which could lead to enamel erosion and tooth decay.
Permanent Bonded Retainer – This type of retainer is bonded to the back of your teeth and stays in your mouth all the time. Permanent bonded retainers are often used behind the lower front teeth, but some patients begin with a bonded retainer, then switch to a Hawley or Essix retainer after a few months. It can be difficult to floss the teeth which are bonded to a permanent retainer; you will need to use threader floss or a similar flossing tool to do it correctly.
- Pros – Permanent bonded retainers hold teeth in alignment well. Plus, because they’re mounted behind the teeth, they’re not visible.
- Cons – Permanent bonded retainers can make flossing difficult. Like traditional braces, they may cut or bother your tongue – dental wax can help make them more comfortable.
What to Expect When You Get a Retainer
When you’re first fitted with a retainer, it may feel strange and even a bit uncomfortable. Be sure to tell your orthodontist if you feel like any parts are poking you or causing you to gag – adjustments can often be made to make the retainer more comfortable. You also may find that you lisp or speak a little strangely when you first start wearing your retainer. Don’t get discouraged – within about a month you’ll get used to it and your speech will be back to normal.
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