What are retainers?

Here are the answers to some common questions about retainers and looking after retainers.

What are retainers?

Retainers are appliances that maintain and hold the alignment of your teeth and the improvement of your bite after the completion of active orthodontic treatment. They are usually passive and are not designed to move teeth. Even after orthodontic treatment, your teeth can lose their alignment throughout growth and even in adulthood. For example, most people notice increasing irregularity of their lower front teeth with age. Retainers are designed to prevent such undesirable changes.

Why are retainers needed?

retainersAfter orthodontic treatment, when your retainers are moved, your teeth can shift out of position if they are not stabilized. Retainers stabilize teeth in their corrected, ideal positions so that the jaw bone and gum surrounding the teeth have an opportunity to adapt to the treatment changes. If you don’t wear retainers the irregularity of your teeth is likely to relapse to some degree, and it will be very hard to correct again. Wearing retainers exactly as instructed is the best guarantee of keeping your teeth straight for a lifetime.

What kinds of retainers are there?

Retainers are either removable or fixed to your teeth. Removable retainers can be made either from wires and hard plastic (where you only see a thin horizontal wire on the front of your teeth), or from soft clear plastic (which fits over your teeth a little like a mouthguard). Fixed or bonded retainers are made from a fine piece of special wire that is stuck to the back of the teeth so that it is not visible from the front. Having taken various factors into consideration, your orthodontist will determine which retainer or combination of retainers is suitable for your teeth.

How much and for how long do I need to wear my retainers?

Removable retainers are worn full-time for the first 2 or 3 months. They are then worn only at nights for the next few months, phasing down to every other night for a few months, and eventually 1 or 2 nights a week. You should then keep wearing your removable retainers 1-2 nights a week for as long as possible; in other words for as long as you want your teeth to remain straight! This is called ‘long-term retention’.

Fixed/bonded retainers may be fitted either as soon as braces are removed, or soon after.