Retainers: How to Maintain Your Straight Teeth

Smiling girl wearing retainers.

When your teeth are crooked or misaligned, you probably know that you need braces to straighten them. It can take about one to two years (or even more) for the braces to fully correct your smile. However, the process does not stop here. To keep or maintain your straight teeth, you still need to wear retainers for a set time.

In this article, you will learn how to help maintain straight teeth after braces and the correct way to wear and look after your retainer!

Woman taking off retainers.


Retainer vs Braces

A retainer is a device placed on the teeth whose job is to hold the teeth in position. So, braces work to move your teeth to their correct positions whilst retainers keep them in place. That’s because teeth will continue moving even when your braces are removed. It is truly exciting when it’s time to remove your braces, but you still have to wear your retainers to ensure that you get to keep your new smile.

Some retainers, known as temporary or removable retainers, are worn a few hours daily, specifically at night while you sleep. Others are permanent, attached to the teeth, much like braces, to stop them from moving. Retainers are teeth stabilisers since your teeth will continue to shift due to normal activities, such as chewing and even talking.

Braces are valuable in straightening your teeth, but so are retainers. Think of retainers as a way to protect the time and money you invested in wearing braces. Once braces are removed, your teeth still require firm guidance as new bone and tissue growth. Until then, you need retainers to keep them locked in place.


Can You Skip Braces and Wear a Retainer to Straighten Your Teeth?

Now, here’s the answer to the question you’ve been waiting for. As you may already know, the usual way is to get braces first and then wear retainers once the braces are out. But can you straighten your teeth using retainers ONLY? The short answer is no, unfortunately. However, there are a few essential things you have to know.

The main reason retainers are used in orthodontics is to help “retain” your new smile. That’s where the name comes from. But the reality is that retainers can also be used to straighten teeth. In very rare cases, retainers have been observed to create slight adjustments to teeth positioning, which eventually lead to straighter teeth. That means that retainers only work in straightening teeth and correcting a bite if the case does not need major treatment.

However, retainers do not apply steady force, which braces do to change the teeth’s position. But here is the interesting part. Since retainers hold your teeth in place, this simple task can help make minor adjustments to the teeth and bite. That’s why people who neglect to wear their retainers for a few weeks or months may need to have the appliance altered or adjusted. Often, the retainer will no longer fit the patient because the teeth have shifted over a short interval.

Wearing retainers as directed by the orthodontist is important. If the new bone tissue has grown and you stopped wearing your retainer for a while, be sure to talk to your orthodontist. Forcing to wear ill-fitting retainers can cause pain, so you need to have them replaced immediately.

So, to summarise, retainers won’t help you have straighter teeth. They are an incomplete solution to fix a crooked smile. However, they are crucial in retaining your straight teeth, which you may have acquired after wearing braces or aligners, such as Invisalign, for a particular period.

Compared to braces, retainers are not so visible. And this is why some patients try to go for retainers instead of braces. If you are concerned about the wires and how your smile will look while wearing the dental appliance, you may want to consider getting clear aligners. If you do not have severe malocclusion, clear aligners that look like retainers will help you achieve your desired smile.

Clear aligners and retainers.


Why Do You Need to Wear a Retainer?

After your braces, you’re probably wondering why you still have to wear a retainer. Your teeth are already straight, and your smile looks great. Surely, you don’t need another appliance for what seems to be an endless number of months. But the answer is clear. You should wear a retainer because your teeth will continue to shift after braces.

To some extent, the retainer’s success depends on how well you follow the instructions given to you by your orthodontist. Understandably, you get so excited about not having wires on your teeth. And this is one of the reasons why many patients decline to wear retainers. Unfortunately, it causes their teeth to move into an abnormal position.

You must remember how vital the time immediately after removing your braces is. It is the most crucial of all. That is because the bone has not completely hardened at this point. Your teeth can still shift due to the still weak foundation. Until the bone hardens, the teeth will not take their new position. This is why retainers are critical. All too often, patients regret how they wasted their years of effort and money because they did not follow the next steps in their teeth straightening procedure.


Can You Wear a Retainer to Correct Teeth Shifting?

If you neglected to wear a retainer for a while, there is still hope. In theory, wearing a retainer can likely correct the problem, especially if a tooth has moved a little. Occasionally, retainers are used to straighten irregularities in teeth positioning after wearing braces. However, retainers will only work to straighten your teeth if they are fitted perfectly; otherwise, they will only do more harm.

Wearing poor fitting retainers can cause pain and even damage to the teeth and gum. Your retainers should fit the same way they did after your braces were removed. Remember that retainers do not work like braces and cannot be adjusted.

By the time you notice that your teeth have shifted after braces, it’s probably too late. This is why many complain about how uncomfortable and sometimes painful it is to wear a retainer. As a result, they simply avoid wearing the appliance. In certain scenarios, the teeth of the patient get damaged. This is true even if there is no discomfort. If your teeth have slightly shifted and you use your retainer without feeling any pain, the teeth that moved may not go back to the corrected position. To make sure that you do not do further damage to your teeth, talk to a qualified orthodontist.


How to Wear and Care for Retainers

For the retainers to work their magic, you should listen to your orthodontist’s instructions. For most people, wearing retainers is only required while sleeping. You can remove them when you wake up, so it’s not as demanding as having braces.

We know it can be frustrating for some people to wear a retainer. After all, you are finally free from braces, so you want to keep your mouth appliance-free. However, your job is not done yet because you still need your retainer. But for how long? It all depends on your specific course of treatment.

In many cases, you will have to wear the retainer for 24 hours every day for the first four to six months. Other orthodontists may recommend wearing the retainer for nine to 12 months without taking it off, except when cleaning. After that period, you may be allowed to switch it to nightly use.

Caring for retainers is easy, especially after coming off more demanding braces. Here are a few things to bear in mind:

  • Never chew gum while wearing retainers.
  • Do not chew on the retainers.
  • Do not hastily remove your retainers from your mouth. Always be careful and do it slowly. Use your index fingers, positioning them at the gumline as you take off the appliance.

Additionally, you should also make sure your retainers are clean and in good condition so that you can continue using them. Here are some tips that will help you in properly caring for your retainer:

  • You will need to brush your retainer regularly. Check that you only use non-abrasive toothpaste or products that do not have whitening benefits.
  • If you wear your retainer while eating, you must brush the appliance after every meal.
  • When rinsing your retainer, use cold water. Don’t dip it in hot water.
  • Store the retainer in a cool, dry place. It is not a good idea to keep in a warm room. Just like with hot water, a hot environment can lead to warping of your retainer.
  • It is always helpful to have a storage case for your retainer. That way, you never worry about losing it and keeping it clean, as well. It’s also easier to take it with you and place it in your bag if you have a storage case.

Retainer storage case.

Some people put their retainers in napkins. Unless you have no other option, storing them in a napkin could cause you to throw them away accidentally. Keep your retainer where children or pets cannot reach. It’s one of the biggest reasons why people lose or damage their retainers. But if you do damage or misplace your dental appliance, don’t fret. It’s easy to have retainers replaced. Simply schedule an appointment with Oasis Orthodontics, and we will assist you in replacing your retainer.

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Kingsley Orthodontics is now called Oasis Orthodontics. We are now operating in two locations: Clarkson and Kingsley.