Retainers are what we use to retain, or hold in place, teeth after they have been straightened with braces. In years past, orthodontists believed that wearing retainers for two or three years was enough to keep them straight for life.
This is only correct on about one third of patients. Another third will have minor movement of their teeth without retainer wear, and the last third will have significantly crooked teeth that require more braces to straighten them.
There are several types of retainers:
Hawley retainers have a hard plastic that covers the roof of your mouth and a metal wire across the front of your teeth.
Bonded lingual retainers are wires that rest against the tongue side of your teeth and are not removable.
Clear plastic retainers are removable sheets of plastic that are formed to the shape of your teeth.
Some metal retainers are able to be removed by the orthodontist but not by patients. These are very useful between phases of orthodontic treatment because they keep the front teeth straight while passing by teeth that still need to grow in.
Many orthodontic patients have forgotten to wear their retainers for weeks to months and then find that the retainer does not fit anymore. This is because teeth move and they are no longer where the orthodontist put them.
If the teeth are not too crooked, then taking pain medicine before putting the painfully poor fitting retainers in and wearing them full time for two weeks or more may return the teeth to their straight position.
Unfortunately, this does not always occur and there are quite a few adults that have braces for a second time because they stopped wearing their retainers.
We recommend keeping retainers around for as long as you want straight teeth, wearing them nightly for a year and then trying them in with gradually increasing time between night wear.
If they feel tight when they go in, you need to wear them more, if they slip on easily and comfortably, you can keep them out a little longer. Never go more than two weeks without wearing them, even after gradually building up the time.
This procedure is not teaching your teeth to stay straight, it is testing whether or not your teeth want to move.
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