Retainers after braces: are they really necessary?
Yes! Retainers after braces are a must. Unfortunately braces alone are not enough to keep your teeth straight long-term. They can move your teeth to where we want them, but once they’re removed, your teeth will have a natural tendency to move back to where they started.
This is known as ‘orthodontic relapse’. It can affect people (who don’t wear their retainers) to varying degrees. You may be lucky and find that your teeth barely move, or you could find yourself back where you started – months of orthodontic treatment all undone.
Why do teeth move after braces?
When we move your teeth, we’re also moving your soft tissues and the surrounding bone. Over time your bone adapts to its new position, however fibres in your gum (which are connected to your teeth and bone) are stretched as result of your teeth moving. These fibres don’t adapt to their new position and will continually pull on your teeth.
There are other factors that can also contribute to your teeth moving over time, for example changes to your jaw as you grow. Certain complaints such as open bites and diastemas will also be more prone to orthodontic relapse.
How can retainers after braces help?
Retainers after braces are a straightforward solution to orthodontic relapse. They work by simply holding your teeth in their new position. Be warned though, if you stop wearing your retainers as instructed by your clinician – at any time – your teeth could move. Luckily the latest retainers are very unobtrusive.
Types of dental retainers
If you had orthodontic treatment when you were you were younger, you may remember your Hawley retainer. Some clinicians still use Hawley retainers, but we opt for the more discreet and comfortable ‘Essix retainer’ at Sensu.
These retainers are very similar to Invisalign aligners. They’re made from clear, vacuum-formed plastic, which is shaped to closely hug your teeth, holding them straight. They’re very discreet and don’t usually cause any problems with speech. Most patients will only need to wear their Essix retainers at night after a brief period of full-time wear.
Fixed retainers are usually fitted behind the front six teeth and consist of a thin steel wire. As their name implies, they are fixed in place, providing permanent protection against orthodontic relapse. They’re designed to be worn indefinitely, but may need replacing periodically. You’ll need to clean around them carefully when you brush your teeth using an interdental brush.
Which retainer is best for you?
Your clinician will talk to you about the best way to keep your teeth straight after your braces. Depending on your circumstances you might be best suited to removable retainers, fixed retainers or a combination of the two. Some patients like the security of a fixed retainer, while others prefer a retainer that they can take in and out.
Whichever option you go for, it’s vital to wear your retainers long term. If you lose or break your retainers at any point, please get in touch with your clinician as soon as you can.
What if your teeth have already moved?
If you’ve recently stopped wearing your retainers and your teeth have started to move there’s still time to take action.