Sometimes, a beautiful smile depends on proper teeth alignment. While braces and Invisalign are common treatment options, a retainer also plays a significant role in ensuring your teeth remain appropriately aligned. Typically, a dentist will recommend a retainer as a follow-up dental treatment (an orthodontic appliance tailored to realign teeth after removing braces). No two mouths are alike; consequently, you should consult with a seasoned dentist. At Whittier Dentist, we can design a retainer that meets your dental needs, goals, and smile and advise how long you should wear your appliance. We are committed to delivering excellent dental care services and offering you the utmost attention and care.

Everything You Need to Know About Retainers

A retainer is a customized dental appliance molded to the shape of the patient's mouth. Generally, orthodontists prescribe retainers after treatments that move and align the patient's teeth, like braces or Invisalign.

While you can blame your genetics for your misaligned bite or crooked teeth, a relapse will happen if you fail to use a prescribed retainer after removing braces. Fixing a relapse requires extensive and expensive treatment.

Here is how a retainer helps in your treatment:

  • Stabilizes your bite — After removing braces, the bone and soft tissues around the teeth require time to adapt to changes made in tooth realignment. They gradually stabilize in the new realignment, and after that happens, the possibility of relapse and teeth shifting out of the positions is reduced.
  • Prevent orthodontic treatment reversal — Your teeth will start returning to their original position after a couple of weeks of removing braces. Retainers can prevent relapse.
  • When teeth are aligned in a new position, the surrounding bones and gums will take longer to follow suit. A retainer accelerates alignment and stabilizes the bite.
  • Assist teeth in holding their position — If a person uses braces to rectify underbites, overbites, severely displaced teeth, or correct gaps, it can take longer for your teeth to stabilize. As a result, you need to hold your teeth that should be moved or repositioned firmly and considerably in the new spaces until your mouth adapts to the changes. A retainer can assist realize this.
  • Maintain space for new teeth like wisdom teeth — Generally, teenagers and preteens whose bodies are still developing use braces. So, they will use retainers around the same time when their wisdom teeth erupt. When your child uses their retainer diligently, there will be adequate space in the jaw to accommodate their new teeth. Additionally, it ensures the teeth do not crowd or shift due to lack of space.

How Long Do You Have to Wear Retainers

While you have been looking forward to removing your Invisalign or braces, you must put on your retainer following your orthodontic treatment. Using the retainer as prescribed keeps the smile in its new position.

Most patients ask how long they should use a retainer. The answer is, it depends on your alignment needs and dental treatment plan.

Immediately after removing braces or Invisalign, you should wear the retainers always.

Once you have been using the retainer consistently for more than three (3) months, you can transition to putting it on only at night. The timeframe is determined on a case-by-case basis, and the dentist will notify you when it is ideal for lowering the frequency of using the orthodontic appliance.

The retention period lasts for life, so ensure that you continue wearing the retainer.

Types of Retainers

Typically, there are two main types of retainers: permanent and removable. Your dentist can help you choose the most effective type based on your dental health condition and why you used braces. The orthodontist can give you one form, or you can receive a permanent retainer for your top teeth and a removable one for the bottom teeth.

Removable Retainers

Most patients prefer removable retainers because after removing braces, the last thing they want is to have another orthodontic dental appliance in their mouth. Removable retainers can feel like a nice change because they allow you to eat your favorite foods you avoided while with braces. They can make cleaning your teeth easier since you do not have to thread floss or fit dental picks between or underneath brackets or wires. There is a wide range of designs and colors to select from.

The most significant disadvantage of a removable retainer is that relapse is a common phenomenon. A patient can lose their appliance and not replace it or fail to put on them as recommended. When you do not wear your removable retainer, it cannot function like expected, and the teeth will return to the original position.

Other cons of a removable retainer include:

  • They can cause excess production of saliva
  • Bacteria can live and grow on them
  • They can be easily damaged if left lying around

There are two types of removable retainers: clear plastic and Hawley retainers.

Clear Plastic Retainers

They are also known as molded retainers. The retainers are molded to fit your teeth's new position effortlessly. A thin polyurethane or plastic is heated and then sucked down around your mold.

Clear plastic retainers are more prevalent among patients than Hawley retainers.

Pros of clear plastic retainers include:

  1. It is almost invisible; a patient is likely to put on it, reducing the possibilities of relapse
  2. It is less bulky hence more comfortable than Hawley retainers
  3. It is less likely to affect speech than Hawley retainer

Drawbacks of clear retainers include:

  1. It cannot be adjusted if you require a realignment, and you should replace it
  2. It cannot be repaired if it breaks or cracks
  3. It can affect speech more than a permanent retainer
  4. It can bend when exposed to heat
  5. It can discolor and become more visible with time
  6. Your bottom and top teeth will not touch naturally with this dental appliance
  7. It can trap liquids against the teeth, resulting in cavities

The most significant difference in the three (3) common brands of these removable retainers (Essix, Zendura, and Vivera) is the form of plastic used to make them.

Vivera is commonly wrongly called Invisalign. While the same firm manufactures both products, Invisalign is an alternative to metallic braces. In other words, Invisalign is not a dental retainer but an aligner that straightens teeth.

Hawley Retainers

Commonly referred to as wire retainers, Hawley retainers are made of thin metal wire and acrylic or plastic shaped to fit your mouth's roof or inside the lower teeth. The attached metal wire runs across the outside of the teeth, maintaining alignment.

These retainers have the following advantages:

  1. You can adjust your retainer if you require a better fit when the teeth need realignment later
  2. They are more durable than clear plastic retainers if cared for and used properly
  3. You can repair your retainer if they break
  4. The lower and upper teeth touch naturally with these retainers

Their disadvantages include:

  1. It can affect your speech more than other retainers
  2. The wire can initially irritate your cheeks or lip

Permanent Retainer

Permanent retainers are also known as lingual wire, bonded retainers, or fixed retainers. They are generally used on a patient's lower jaw teeth.

Permanent retainers are bonded or glued to your teeth's back surface. It is easier to attach the bonding material to your lower teeth, like canine teeth (cuspids), for long-term and effective use.

Permanent retainers mean what the appliance does; they always remain on the teeth to prevent them from shifting. However, your orthodontist can remove the appliance if it:

  • cause tartar or plaque buildup on teeth surrounding your retainer, or
  • irritates the teeth or gums.

Advantages of permanent retainers are:

  • No person knows where the retainer is other than you because it is bonded behind the teeth
  • It does not affect the speech
  • It is hard to damage from the standard use of the mouth
  • Since the retainers are in place, they keep teeth in place, keeping the teeth aligned
  • You cannot lose your retainer because it is attached with dental glue

Potential disadvantages of bonded retainers include:

  • Attaching your permanent retainer is uncomfortable and lengthy — Sometimes, it can take approximately one hour to secure a permanent retainer to the teeth. The patients obtain quick impressions designed to fit their mouths when it comes to removable retainers.
  • Flossing and brushing around the dental appliance requires additional effort. The likelihood of developing gum disease and cavities is greater if you fail to clean around the fixed retainer effectively.
  • Having a metallic substance always in the mouth is uncomfortable — If the wire breaks or the bond detaches, the tongue can get scratched or irritated.
  • Biting hard foods like an apple or steak can twist your wire out of its shape. Also, food with additives or artificial sugars can wear away your bonding material, loosening your dental appliance's bond to your teeth.
  • If a wire debonds or breaks off, you should replace or repair the retainer.

How to Clean Your Retainer

Since retainers sit against the teeth and inside the patient's mouth, they can quickly accumulate tartar, plaque, and bacteria. In the same way, you should brush your teeth daily, so it is essential to clean the retainer daily. Over time, your retainer might start tasting or smelling funny if you fail to clean it often.

Failing to clean the dental retainer exposes you to Candida albicans. It is dangerous yeast found in the mouth but can accumulate on the retainer, resulting in an infection.

Your retainers can also harbor hazardous bacteria like Streptococcus, Veillonella, and Lactobacillus. While these bacteria are found in the mouth, they can cause illness when they build up.

Here is how to clean different forms of retainers and tips to maintain them.

Cleaning Your Clear Plastic and Hawley Retainers

You can remove your removable retainers from the mouth for everyday cleaning.

Here are steps to clean your removable retainers:

  • Ensure you clean the retainer immediately after removing it from the mouth while it is wet. It makes cleaning the debris off before hardening easier.
  • Brush out the retainer using lukewarm water following every meal.
  • When deep cleaning, mix mild dish soap with lukewarm water (toothpaste can be harsh and scratch your dental appliance's surface). Using a denture brush or soft-bristled toothbrush, gently remove debris and plaque.
  • Use a cotton swab to reach the deepest ridges and grooves on your plastic retainer.
  • Ask your dental health specialist about soaking the dental appliance in a retainer or denture cleaners like Polident or Efferdent. Should the dentist recommend it, mix a tablet of your cleaner with lukewarm water and then follow the instructions on the package for timing.

If your retainer has stubborn debris, visit your orthodontist. They have solutions that remove tartar.

Cleaning Your Permanent Retainers

Bonded retainers are attached to the teeth, and you should floss them regularly. The process is not challenging after being used to it after a couple of times. Here are flossing tips:

  • Using a six-inch piece of floss and a floss threader, shimmy your floss between two of the front bottom teeth, taking your floss end in the threader and the remaining end between your fingers.
  • Once your floss is between your teeth, gently elevate and lower your floss along your teeth's sides from their top to meet your gums. Please be gentle to avoid injuring or cutting your gums.
  • After you are done with a set of teeth, move your floss up to your teeth's top. Then slide your floss over to your subsequent set of teeth.
  • Pull your floss down between the subsequent set of your teeth. Then repeat step 2
  • Repeat all these steps until you have flossed all teeth secured by the fixed retainer

If you experience challenges flossing, it will help if you call an orthodontist for help. They will guide you and offer more cleaning tips.

Tips for Taking Care of Your Removable Retainer

Discussed below are tips to take care of removable retainers

  • Avoid heat — Always wash your retainer in lukewarm water. Exposing the retainers to heat can bend and ruin them. Ensure you keep the dental appliance away from microwaves, boiling water, washers, dryers, a car's dashboard, and microwaves.
  • Soaking duration — If you use tablets, do not soak your Hawley retainer for long. Otherwise, the chemicals will corrode the metallic components. Ensure you soak your retainer for the duration you take to clean the dental appliance or, as stated on the cleaning tablet. You can also soak your retainers in mouthwash to kill bacteria and freshen the dental appliance's smell. Ensure you mix equal ratios of lukewarm water and mouthwash. If the mouthwash has alcohol, occasionally soak the retainer in the solution. Alcohol can destroy the retainer's plastic.
  • Avoid using chemicals — You do not require harsh cleaners to clean your retainer.
  • Clean the retainer case — Clean the retainer case daily before putting the retainer away. Gently scrub its surfaces with warm and soapy water, rinse them and then pat it to dry.
  • Be watchful where you keep the retainers — Keep the dental appliance away from your pet so it does not chew it. Also, be cautious where you put the removable retainers while eating. If you place it on a napkin, you can accidentally throw it in a garbage can or forget it.
  • Replace when required — Retainers are subject to wear and tear, and you should eventually replace them. Don't hesitate to call your dentist if you realize the retainer is worn out, dirty, or requires readjustment.
  • Eating with your retainers — Since you can remove your retainer when eating or drinking anything apart from water, there is little to worry about food sticking in your retainer. Always remove the retainer before eating or drinking, brush your teeth and then rinse the retainer before wearing them back. There are no food restrictions with removable retainers, provided it is not in your mouth and is safely stored.

How to Have Your Minor Child in the Habit of Putting on Retainer

When a baby first begins wearing a retainer, their teeth can feel sore for a couple of days. Although this is natural, it can make them not want to use the orthodontic appliance. Convincing the juvenile to put on it can be challenging, but here are tips you can use to make it easy and fun:

  • Customize their retainer by having photos of your baby's favorite book character as part of it. It will make the child excited about wearing the retainer every day.
  • Be patient and do not tire of reminding the child to put on their retainer.
  • It also helps to help them understand what retainers are and why they need them.
  • Write notes and put them in the juvenile's retainer case. It can be a fun surprise to find once they open their case.
  • Reward your child for putting on their retainers, particularly in the first weeks

Broken Retainer? Here is What To Do

Hard foods, mouth injury, or wear and tear can cause the teeth to detach from a bonded retainer or wires to break. Sometimes, patients are unaware of the issue until their teeth start moving out of position.

Since it is challenging to know whether your bonded retainer is damaged, it is essential to have regular checkups with your dentist. Discovering the issue sooner than later can reduce the detrimental impact of your broken retainer.

You should schedule a dental appointment as soon as possible if you:

  • Suddenly bite down on something hard
  • Have a mouth injury
  • Feel something is wrong with your bite or retainer

If your orthodontist wants to remove the permanent retainer, they will:

  • Take away the dental cement using a drill
  • Ease your retainer away from the teeth
  • Clean and then polish your teeth's surface

After the dentist removes the retainer, they will determine if your orthodontic appliance requires replacement or repair.

What You Can Do at Your Home

If you realize the orthodontic appliance is damaged but cannot reach your dentist immediately, here is what you should do to reduce the possibility of damage to the mouth:

For a Removable Retainer

  1. Examine your retainer to check how severely damaged it is
  2. Purchase a pocket-friendly removable retainer that can assist you before seeing your dentist

For a Permanent Retainer

  1. Find a person you can trust to examine the retainer and determine whether your appliance is stable in the mouth and if you can continue using it.
  2. Buy an over-the-counter mouthguard to use at night. Your mouthguard can assist protect your retainer while sleeping and prevent teeth movement.

When it comes to all types of retainers:

  1. Rinse the mouth using warm salty water to heal painful spots
  2. Avoid sports activities and hard foods until you consult with your dentist
  3. Practice proper oral hygiene

How Much Does a Retainer Cost?

The answer depends on if you are engaging the same dentist who performed the orthodontic treatment, whether you have dental insurance, your preferred type of retainer, the dentist's location, lab costs, and other costs associated with purchasing a retainer. Usually, you should consult your dentist to learn more about their fee.

Generally, the cost of Hawley retainers ranges from $150 to $600. On the other hand, clear retainers cost between $400 and $800. Your first retainer is included in your total orthodontic treatment cost.

You will pay a maximum of $500 to replace or obtain your permanent retainers. Typically, the placement of your permanent retainer is included in the cost of the braces.

Contact a Seasoned Orthodontist Near Me

Once you achieve your dream smile with an orthodontic treatment like braces or Invisalign, you want to ensure that you preserve and stabilize the results. That is where retainers come in handy. Retainers prevent teeth from shifting to their original position and remain in correct alignment for optimal appearance and functionality. It also allows you to maintain daily oral hygiene and prevent issues like cavities and plaque buildup. The skilled orthodontists at The Whitter Dentist can create retainers designed to fit your oral needs and smile and offer you individual instructions on wearing and cleaning them. Please contact us at 562-632-1223 to schedule an initial consultation and learn more about the treatment.