Here are the answers to some common questions about 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?
After orthodontic treatment, when your braces are removed, 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 or bonded retainers may be fitted either as soon as retainers are removed, or some time after. Again, you should expect ‘long-term retention’ with bonded retainers, keeping them on for as long as possible.


WEARING YOUR RETAINERS - Removable Retainers

Will they hurt?

  • For the first 4-5 days of having your removable retainers, you may experience some very minor discomfort in your mouth. The retainers may feel a little tight, and parts of them may rub on your gum, lips, cheeks or tongue. You may also notice increased saliva flow, and an effect on your speech. This is normal; soon you’ll get used to wearing your retainers, and your speech will go back to normal. If you leave your retainers out for too long because of the initial discomfort, they will feel much more uncomfortable when you start wearing them once more.
     
  • We can supply you with some orthodontic wax if you wish. If any part of the retainer is digging into your lips or cheeks, tear off a small piece of wax, roll it into a small pea-sized ball between your fingers, and gently mould this over any troublesome part of the retainer. This acts as a cushion, keeping your lip or cheek away from the retainer components.
     
  • If you continue to have discomfort beyond the first few days, contact the practice so that an emergency appointment can be arranged as soon as possible to adjust your retainer. Don’t just wait for your next appointment without the retainers being worn: this could lead to relapse (a return of the irregularity of your teeth).

What happens if I don’t wear my 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.
  • 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!

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’.

So I have to wear my retainer all the time?
At first, yes. Retainers do not work in your pocket! You are usually advised by your orthodontist to wear your retainers all the time for the first 2-3 months following the completion of your active treatment. If this is the case, wear your retainers all day and all night wherever you are. There are only a few exceptions to this rule. You may remove them for:

  • eating main meals
  • brushing your teeth
  • playing contact sports or very active physical games or PE (in which case you should wear a mouthguard instead)
  • Playing wind musical instruments
  • swimming

Going on holiday is not an exception to this rule! Only remove your retainers for a short while for the above exceptions, and when you do, always store them in a small rigid container which we will provide to avoid damage to, or loss of your retainer.

After the first 2-3 months of full-time wear, you will be asked to wear your retainers only at nights. We will advise you on reducing your retainer wear down to 1-2 nights a week in stages.

Should I brush my teeth as normal?
You should brush your teeth thoroughly preferably after each meal. Take a travel brush with you to school or work so that you can brush after lunch. Use a fluoride mouthwash or brush with a fluoride gel last thing at night after toothbrushing.

Do I still need to see my regular dentist?
Regardless of the type of orthodontic treatment you are having, you should always continue to arrange six-monthly check-ups with your dentist.

What should I do if my retainers are damaged or lost?
Contact the practice 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; or repair it if someone else brings in the damaged retainer. A charge is made for replacing very damaged unrepairable or lost retainers. Repeated damage to, or loss of your retainers will result in partial relapse of the original condition of your bite.



WEARING YOUR RETAINERS - Fixed/Bonded Retainers

Is a fixed retainer uncomfortable?
Fitting a fixed retainer does not hurt. 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 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 to clean in between your teeth.

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 lifetime.

How long to 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. This is called ‘long-term retention’.

Do I still need to see my regular dentist?
Regardless of the type of orthodontic treatment you are having, you should always continue to arrange six-monthly check-ups with your dentist.

What should I do if my fixed retainer is damaged or it comes off?
Contact the practice 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 12 months following the completion of your active treatment. After this, a fee is charged for repair or replacement of your retainers.

 

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