In an ideal world, you could snap your fingers and have the attractive and well-aligned smile you deserve. However, in the real world, there is a lot you need to do to achieve excellent oral health and an aesthetically pleasing, perfect smile. For instance, if you have misaligned teeth, you will need orthodontic treatment to help straighten your teeth into their ideal position in the mouth.

While most people think their orthodontic treatment will be over once their braces or clear aligners come off, that is not entirely true. Straightening your teeth using these dental appliances is only half the battle. The other half is about retaining them in the new perfect position in your mouth, making orthodontic retainers necessary.

Once your braces come off, your dentist recommends wearing orthodontic retainers to protect your new, well-aligned smile. Here at Tayani Dental Group, we love and enjoy seeing our patients' faces light up once they see their new and well-aligned smile.

Read on to understand how orthodontic retainers work and why these appliances are essential during your orthodontic treatment journey.

Understanding What Orthodontic Retainers are and What they Do

An orthodontic retainer is a custom-made appliance that dentists or orthodontists use to keep your fresh and newly aligned teeth in their ideal position in your mouth once the active phase of the orthodontic treatment is over. 

During the first phase of orthodontic treatment, your dentist will use clear aligners or braces to exert gentle and continuous pressure on your misaligned teeth to move them into the correct and desired positions.

However, once this active phase of orthodontic treatment ends, you will need orthodontic retainers. The primary purpose of these dental appliances is to hold your straightened teeth in their new ideal positions until the surrounding tissues and bones tighten up to lock your new, appealing smile in place.

While wearing an orthodontic retainer could irritate some patients, it is the only way to maintain your results for life because daily habits, like chewing food, can shift your teeth back into their old position.

Types of Orthodontic Retainers You Ought to Know

Generally speaking, your dentist can recommend two primary types of orthodontic retainers once you complete the active phase or stage of your orthodontic treatment. Here is what you need to know about these two types of orthodontic retainers:

Fixed Retainers

Also known as a permanent retainer, a fixed orthodontic retainer consists of a thin copper or titanium wire strategically positioned and bonded at the back of your bottom or top teeth, or both, using glue.

Since the wire your dentist will use will stretch across the surface of your teeth, you must maintain top-notch oral hygiene during your treatment period to avoid dental and oral health issues like cavities. Your dentist will show you how to floss and brush your teeth to stay on top of your dental and oral health during this second phase of orthodontic treatment.

Since the bonded thin wire will hold your aligned teeth in their ideal placement in your mouth for an extended period, fixed orthodontic retainers have the best results compared to non-fixed retainers. Fixed dental retainers are also ideal for a patient with a large gap between the top front teeth. Other advantages of using a fixed orthodontic retainer once your braces or aligners come off include:

  • You do not have to worry about misplacing it.
  • You do not have to recall wearing it.
  • It is inconspicuous and invisible to other people.
  • It is not easy to damage it.
  • It is less likely to impact your speech.

Removable Retainers

The removable retainer is another popular type of orthodontic retainer, especially among children. Removable retainers consist of a combination of thin wires that pass or stretch across your lower or upper front teeth. Unlike a permanent retainer, a removable or non-fixed orthodontic retainer has hooks holding it at the back of your teeth.

Depending on your unique needs and preferences, your dentist could recommend wearing any of the following types of removable retainers once you complete the active phase of your orthodontic treatment:

  • Hawley retainers.
  • Essix retainers.

These two removable retainers are custom-made to fit the new position of your aligned teeth and mouth shape for excellent results. Although maintaining oral and dental hygiene is not a challenge when wearing any of these removable orthodontic retainers, you must remember to wear them as your dentist recommends.

You must also be mindful of where you keep or place your removable orthodontic retainer because once you misplace it, you must visit your dentist as soon as possible for a replacement. When not in your mouth, keeping your retainers in their case is advisable to avoid losing them.

When deciding which type of orthodontic retainer is ideal for your smile, your dentist will consider your specific preferences, needs, and anticipated level of adherence to the treatment.

The Procedure Involved When Making and Fitting Orthodontic Retainers in Your Teeth

Fortunately, fitting orthodontic retainers in your mouth is a non-invasive procedure. The procedure your dentist will use to make your retainers and fit them in place will depend on the specific type he/she finds suitable for your unique dental condition. Here is what to expect during the making and placement of removable and fixed retainers, respectively:

Removable Retainers

During the making of a removable orthodontic retainer, your dentist will do the following:

  1. Take an impression of your teeth' alignment and size using a dental putty.
  2. Put the dental putty into a tray, which he/she will then insert over the surface of your teeth to imprint your unique alignment and bite into it. It will generally take about three minutes to make a dental impression of your teeth alignment and mouth shape.
  3. Use the mold or send it to the laboratory for a specialist to create or make a custom-made acrylic or plastic retainer to help you retain your new smile.

It is worth noting that most dentists nowadays have technology that can take digital impressions of your teeth layout and bite, meaning he/she does not have to use the traditional dental impressions explained above. When making digital impressions, your dentist will use a handheld gadget to capture pictures of your gums and teeth.

Next, he/she will use computer software to combine these pictures, generating a three-dimensional (3D) replica of your teeth alignment and mouth.

Fixed Retainers

When making your fixed orthodontic retainer, your dentist will use a thin wire to accurately measure your teeth' ideal placement. Then, he/she will use dental glue to keep the wire intact. While this process could take longer than molding a removable dental impression, you will leave your dentist’s clinic with your fixed dental retainers in place.

Numbers of Hours You Need to Wear Your Orthodontic Retainer

How long you will need to wear your retainer depends on your type of orthodontic retainer and your unique dental condition. If you have permanent or fixed retainers, you will have them on every day and night.

However, if you have non-fixed or removable retainers, the rules for the number of hours you need to wear them will be different. Your dentist will let you know the number of hours you need to wear them, depending on your unique treatment needs.

The typical requirement for removable retainers is to wear them full-time daily, except during mealtimes or cleanings, for the first four (4) to six (6) months once your braces or clear aligners come off.

However, according to a 2010 study of orthodontists, most dentists recommend that you remain with your dental retainer for not less than nine (9) months after your braces come off. After several months of wearing your retainer, your dentist could recommend wearing it at night only while you are asleep.

No matter what type of orthodontic retainer your dentist recommends, chances are he/she could require you to continue with this orthodontic treatment indefinitely. When you fail to wear your retainers as advised by your dentist, your teeth will return to their old alignment, meaning you will need to begin wearing braces or clear aligners again.

How to Care for Your Dental Retainers

How well you care for your orthodontic retainers can determine how long they will last, especially if you have removable retainers. Aside from cleaning your dental retainer at least once daily to keep it in excellent condition, the following tips can help you avoid breaking or losing it:

  • Take your retainer off whenever you want to drink or eat a meal.
  • Whenever your retainer is not in your mouth, you should keep it in its case.
  • Never keep your retainer in your purse or pocket unless it is in its special case.
  • Avoid chewing gums when you have your retainer on.
  • Avoid wrapping the orthodontic retainer with a napkin or tissue because you can forget and throw it away.
  • Avoid placing your retainer on a hot surface, like a stovetop or car bonnet, because it could melt, affecting its fit in your teeth.
  • Use a soft-bristled toothbrush to clean your retainers gently after every meal to keep plaque at bay. For deeper cleaning, you can use a retainer cleaner and allow it to soak for a few minutes to remove any plaque buildup and foul smell.
  • Keep the dental retainer away from your pets because they can bite or chew it.

However, if you have fixed or permanent retainers, caring for them could require more work than removable retainers. Like braces, food and plaque can build up between the retainer wires and your teeth, leading to cavities and other oral health issues. Hence, your dentist will recommend proper oral hygiene if wearing a permanent retainer is the best option for your unique dental condition.

Here are some of the hygiene tips your dentist could recommend to stay on top of your dental and oral health when wearing a permanent orthodontic retainer:

  • Gently brush all around your permanent retainers from different angles using a soft-bristled toothbrush.
  • Avoid skipping any space when brushing and flossing your teeth, regardless of how small it is, because bacteria can accumulate inside it, leading to cavities.
  • Use a floss threader to remove food debris from the tight spaces between the retainer wires and your teeth. If a floss threader is not effective in removing these food debris, you can try a water flosser.
  • Avoid chewing hard foods like nuts and seeds because they can stick in between the teeth spaces and the retainer.
  • Schedule frequent dental visits with your dentist for thorough cleanings to avoid plaque buildup.

If your retainer is damaged or loose, you should speak with your dentist about an adjustment or replacement as soon as possible. Aside from interfering with the effectiveness of the orthodontic treatment, damaged retainers can harm your teeth or the soft tissues of your mouth, including your gums and tongue.

How to Make Your Child Develop the Habit of Wearing Orthodontic Retainers

Once your child begins wearing orthodontic retainers, his/her teeth and gums could feel sore for some days. While this is natural for some patients, this little discomfort could make him/her not want to wear his/her retainers.

Hence, it is on you as the parent or guardian to make the child enjoy wearing his/her orthodontic retainers once he/she completes the active phase of orthodontic treatment. While it can be challenging to put your child into the habit of wearing retainers as recommended by the dentist, here are a few ways that could make it easy and fun for him/her:

  • Tell your dentist to customize his/her retainers with an image of his/her favorite TV character or cartoon.
  • Encourage the child to wear the retainers by rewarding him/her with gifts whenever he/she does what you request, especially during the first few weeks after the braces come off.
  • Be patient with the child and do not tire of or give up on reminding him/her to wear the retainers because a new habit could take some time to form.
  • Write an appealing note in your child's orthodontic retainer case. Doing that could be a fun way to make the child eager to wear the retainers every day.

Generally, it could be tricky and challenging to convince your loved one to wear his/her orthodontic retainers daily for an extended period, as recommended by the dentist. However, helping the minor understand the purpose of wearing an orthodontic retainer and reminding him/her to wear it daily could go a long way toward achieving the appealing and healthy smile he/she deserves.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Orthodontic Retainers

Below are some common questions many people planning to begin or already undergoing orthodontic treatment ask about orthodontic retainers:

  1. What is the Cost of Orthodontic Retainers?

The price for orthodontic retainers will depend on the type your dentist recommends. Typically, most dentists charge between $150 and $600 for removable retainers. Thankfully, some insurance plans cover some of the cost of orthodontic treatment.

When budgeting for your orthodontic treatment, you should consult with your insurer to know the limits of your insurance policy. Conversely, for permanent retainers, your dentist could charge you between $150 and $500 to put them in place or replace them when broken or lost.

  1. Can an Orthodontic Retainer Help Straighten or Align My Teeth?

No, an orthodontic retainer cannot align your teeth into the ideal position in the mouth because they do not exert constant pressure on them like braces or clear aligners do. However, when you forget to wear the retainer for weeks, wearing it could help shift your misaligned teeth back into their ideal alignment.

  1. What Will I Do If My Orthodontic Retainer Does Not Fit Like It Used To?

If your orthodontic retainers no longer fit like they used to, chances are your straightened teeth have shifted. When that happens, you can do nothing to tighten it up and make it fit as required. The only solution is to consult your dentist or orthodontist to adjust the orthodontic retainer or mold a new one as soon as possible.

  1. What Makes My Orthodontic Removable Orthodontic Retainer Smell?

The microorganisms that cause halitosis or bad breath in your mouth can also grow in your orthodontic retainers, creating an unpleasant smell. That is why it is essential to clean your removable retainers every day.

If you notice that your removable retainer has an unpleasant smell, you should scrub it thoroughly with a soft toothbrush, soap, and water to remove any plaque buildup that could be causing the smell. When the odor persists, you should speak with your dentist to find the root cause of the problem.

Bottom Line

You cannot overlook the need for orthodontic retainers once you complete the active or first stage of your orthodontic treatment. Braces and clear aligners will give you well-aligned teeth and the perfect smile you deserve, but orthodontic retainers will make these results last.

Find a Credible Dentist Near Me

We invite you to contact our well-experienced and reputable dentists at Tayani Dental Group at 949-741-0795 if you or a loved one needs orthodontic services in Fullerton. We treat our clients as family and will be with you throughout your orthodontic treatment journey until you achieve the desired celebrity-like smile.