What are the types of retainers?
To retain means to keep in place; therefore, an orthodontic retainer is used to keep your teeth in their new positions after your braces come off. Most orthodontists use one of these three types of retainers:
A clear plastic retainer (also called an Essix Retainer) is sometimes placed on the upper teeth one or two days after the braces are removed. It resembles the Invisalign appliance. It is normally worn only at night and lasts an average of 24 months. After it wears out the orthodontist may replace it with a traditional wire retainer. Some people have commented that this type of retainer can be uncomfortable.
A bonded retainer is normally placed behind the lower teeth after the braces are removed. It is a wire “permanently” bonded to the teeth with composite material. Sometimes this type of retainer is used for the upper teeth, but usually this is not possible because it would interfere with your bite. A bonded retainer will remain in place for several years.
A wire retainer (also called a Hawley Retainer) is normally placed after discontinuing use of either the clear retainer or bonded retainer. This type of retainer has the added benefit of being adjustable so that minor tooth movement is possible. Sometimes a wire retainer can be worn full time instead of braces to correct mild crowding. As you can see, the acrylic part of the retainer can be made in a variety of colors and patterns.
Do I need to wear a retainer after my braces come off?
The short answer is: YES, absolutely!
The long answer is: It takes many months for your periodontal ligaments and bone to “remember” the new position of your teeth and keep them in place. The retainer helps keep them in their proper new positions. It’s important to wear the retainer exactly as your dentist/orthodontist recommends. Otherwise, your teeth may shift, especially if you stop wearing your retainer in the first two years after your braces come off.
Most people wear their retainer 24/7 for at least 6 months to a year after the braces first come off. Of course, you must take your retainer out to eat or to to brush your teeth. Be sure to carry a retainer case with you to store your retainer when it is not in your mouth. Keep a few handy — in your car, your purse, at work, etc.
Many retainers have been lost in napkins at restaurants or school and thrown in the trash. A new retainer can cost as much as $300! There are also special “Retainer Maintainer” plastic bags with a “don’t throw this out” symbol to use in a pinch. These are easy to stuff in your pocket, purse, or backpack “just in case.”
After the initial period is over, your orthodontist will probably tell you that you can switch to wearing your retainer only at night. Be sure to wear it EVERY night for at least 4 to 6 additional months. After that, if everything seems stable, you can probably switch to wearing it only several nights per week (always be sure to ask your orthodontist what he or she recommends).
If you totally stop wearing your retainer, even after a few years, your teeth may begin to move and shift. This is especially true if you have tongue thrust issues or have had extractions. Unless you want crooked teeth again, or want to go back into braces, wear your retainer regularly for the rest of your life — at least a couple of nights each week! This isn’t as bad as it sounds. It just becomes part of your life — another way to ensure that your smile stays beautiful and healthy!
If your retainer breaks, call your orthodontist immediately to have another one made. If you can’t afford a new one, discuss this with your orthodontist and try to set up a payment plan or work out a financial arrangement.
How do I keep my retainer clean?
You should clean your retainer each night as directed by your orthodontist. If you are wearing your retainer around the clock, rinse it with warm water after taking it out of your mouth, and also before putting it back in later. This will help prevent bacterial buildup.
If your retainer smells, it is because bacteria has built up on it. The only way to get it to stop smelling is to kill the bacteria.
You can brush a Hawley retainer with a toothbrush and a tiny bit of toothpaste, but that is not recommended for a clear Essix retainer. Note that brushing will not kill bacteria, and can put tiny scratches in your retainer, which will make it prone to holding even more bacteria. The best way to keep your retainer clean is to use a product made for that purpose. You can use denture cleaner in a pinch, but that is not recommended on a regular basis. Denture cleaner (such as Polident) will eventually turn your retainer yellow; it is not formulated for retainers.
If you have a Hawley retainer that contains metal solder, you need to be careful. Read How To Clean A Hawley Retainer With Metal Solder for more information.
Several great specialty products are available on DentaKit.com to help keep your retainers clean and free of odor. They are: SonicBrite, Retainer Brite, DentaSoak, Steraligner, Dentibrite, OAP Cleaning Foam, and Cleanse.Freshen.Go. These cleaners work great on all types of retainers and clear Invisalign -type aligners. DentaSoak, OAP Cleaning Foam, Steraligner and Cleanse Freshen Go are persulfate-free. While some of these retainer cleaning products are available on Amazon and eBay, you need to be careful of low-priced counterfeit products.
What if my retainer gets lost or broken?
It can cost $250 to $500 to replace a retainer. If your retainer gets broken, call your orthodontist’s office to see if it can be fixed. If it needs to be replaced, you might have to wait a week to 10 days before getting a new one from your orthodontist’s lab.
Teeth are dynamic, and without a retainer, they might shift (especially if you’ve only been out of your braces for a few weeks or months). Fortunately, there is a temporary retainer product you can buy to tide you over until your real retainer is fixed or replaced. It’s called Stay Tray, and it’s available at DentaKit and Amazon. Be sure to follow the instructions exactly, and the product should work well.
How to clean a Hawley Retainer with metal solder
If your Hawley retainer contains solder, you should not soak it in any products. Even the ones that say it’s safe to soak for 15 or 20 minutes a day will eventually make the solder crumble. It’s the nature of the anti-bacterial agents in the cleaners that does this, and long exposure makes it worse. If you leave your retainer soaking overnight or for many hours, the solder will turn black and crumble off in a matter of a few weeks.
For these types of retainers, you have two choices:
- Ask your orthodontist whether the soldererd-on pieces are really necessary (in some cases, they are not, and can be removed).
- Instead of soaking your retainer, clean it with OAP Cleaning Foam or Gel, or Cleanse Freshen Go spray or wipes.
You could soak your retainer every so often for a deep cleaning, making sure to remove it after 15 to 20 minutes. Or you could ask your orthodontist run it through their ultrasonic autoclave cleaner.