What are Retainers?

People often use the word retainer for any removable appliances. However, orthodontists do not call active removable braces (braces that move teeth) retainers. Retainers are appliances that are provided or fitted after completion of orthodontic treatment. Their job is to retain or to keep the teeth fixed in their new corrected positions, and they are passive not active. Here are some common questions about retainers, and our specialist orthodontists’ answers to those questions.

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.

Having taken various factors into consideration, your orthodontist at Elite Orthodontics will determine which retainer or combination of retainers is suitable for your teeth.

Why are retainers needed?

After orthodontic treatment, when your braces are removed, your teeth can shift out of position if they are not stabilised. Retainers stabilise 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). A fixed or bonded retainer is 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.

Here at Elite Orthodontics we use both fixed and removable retainers in combination in almost all cases for maximum stability.

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

Removable retainers should be worn every night for the first year, phasing down to every other night for the next year, and eventually 2 nights a week. You should then keep wearing your removable retainers 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 ‘indefinite retention’. Going on holiday is not an exception to this rule! Always store your retainers in a small rigid container which we will provide to avoid damage to, or loss of your retainer. Never wrap them up in tissue paper: it’s the easiest way of losing them!

Similarly, bonded or fixed retainers should stay on your teeth for as long as possible for indefinite retention to prevent relapse and maximise stability.

Will they hurt?

Removable retainers become uncomfortable only if you don’t wear them as often or as regularly as your orthodontist has advised.

Bonded or fixed retainers may feel a little off or abrasive to the tongue for the first 2-3 days, but you soon get used to them. Please don’t explore your bonded retainers with your tongue.

What happens if I don’t wear my removable retainers as advised?

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.

How do I take care of my removable retainers?

Do not leave your removable retainers lying around outside their container. Do not carry the retainers loose in your pockets or your bag. Do not wrap up your retainers in tissue paper or a napkin and then leave them lying around. To avoid damage to, or loss of your retainers, always store them in their container/box when they are not being worn.

To keep your retainers clean, brush them with your regular toothbrush and toothpaste whenever you brush your own teeth. You may wish to purchase retainer cleaning tablets from a chemists as an extra measure.

Do not wash your retainers in very warm or boiling water; do not expose them to heat (such as hot drinks, or the dishwasher!); and do not use bleach or household disinfectants or chemicals to clean your retainers.

Always insert or remove your retainers according to your orthodontist’s instructions. Do not get into the habit of clicking them in and out. This can be damaging to your teeth and your retainers, and be very annoying to those around you!

Should I brush my teeth as normal?

Yes, you should brush your teeth as normal twice a day, and floss once a day. With night-time removable retainers you will need to take them out for snacks and clean them and your teeth afterwards.

Do not use ordinary between teeth connected together with a fixed retainer. Your hygienist will advise you about how to clean your teeth interdentally where you have a fixed/bonded retainer.

You can also get additional help in keeping your mouth clean by using a fluoride mouthwash once a day.

Do I still need to see my regular dentist?

Yes! Regardless of the type of orthodontic treatment you are having, you should always continue to arrange six-monthly check-ups with your usual dentist, and continue to see your hygienist.

What should I do if my removable retainers are damaged or lost?

Contact us here at Elite Orthodontics as soon as possible for an emergency appointment and/or advice. Do not wait for your next scheduled appointment as this may result in unwanted tooth movement. Very occasionally we may be able to remake your retainer in your absence. A charge is made for replacing damaged or lost retainers. Repeated damage to, or loss of your retainers will result in partial relapse of the original condition of your bite.

Is a fixed retainer uncomfortable?

Fitting a fixed retainer (a special wire behind your front teeth) does not hurt at all. Because it is fitted to the back of the teeth, your tongue may take a few days to get used to its presence, and generally any discomfort is very minor and temporary. There may be a very slight effect on your speech for the first few days.

How do I look after my fixed retainer?

The main potential cause of problems with a fixed retainer is inadequate toothbrushing. Plaque can accumulate around the fixed retainer, causing damage to the enamel of your teeth (tooth decay). As long as you brush well, and also use a fluoride mouthwash or gel you are unlikely to have this problem.

Do not touch or pick at your fixed retainer. Do not use a toothpick to clean around it. Always use a toothbrush to clean your fixed retainer. You may also use a special kind of floss called Superfloss or special interdental brushes such as TePe to clean in between your teeth. Please ask your hygienist about the best method for you.

What happens if my fixed retainer is removed?

Without your fixed retainer, 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 very long time.

How long do I have to keep my fixed retainer on?

You should expect to keep a fixed/bonded retainer on for as long as possible. That is to say for as long as you want your teeth to stay straight.

Should I brush my teeth as normal around the fixed retainer?

Yes, you should brush around your fixed retainer and all your teeth as normal twice a day. However when you have fixed retainers, you cannot use ordinary floss between the teeth connected together by the fixed retainer. You will need to use other dental aids to help you clean in between those teeth, such as small interdental brushes or Super-Floss.

Your hygienists will help you to establish a good home regime that you can follow easily and which will help you take care of both your teeth and the retainer. You can also get additional help in keeping your mouth clean by using a fluoride mouthwash once a day.

What should I do if my fixed retainer is damaged or if it comes off?

Contact us here at Elite Orthodontics as soon as possible for an emergency appointment and/or advice. Do not wait for your next scheduled appointment as this may result in unwanted tooth movement. Maintenance of your fixed retainer will be carried out free of charge for up to 6 months following the completion of your active treatment. After this, a fee may be charged for repair or replacement of your fixed retainers.