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When braces are removed, teeth can shift, compromising the results of orthodontic work. However, a retainer can help you maintain a beautiful, straight smile for a lifetime. This custom-crafted device can hold your teeth in place until the bone and connective tissue stabilize. Retainers may be bonded to the back surface of teeth, or they may be removable. There are several options to choose from, and the best retainer for you will depend on your lifestyle, personal preferences, and oral health.

Types of Retainers

After braces, you have two options: fixed or removable retainers.

Fixed Retainer

Also referred to as “bonded” or “permanent” retainer, a fixed retainer features a thin metal wire, which is affixed to the back of incisor teeth. Fixed appliances are particularly suitable for younger patients who may forget to wear removable retainers. With proper care, these devices can last for several years.

Removable Retainer

If you are interested in a removable device, you can choose from either a Hawley or an Essix retainer. Hawley retainers are molded to mimic the shape of your palate, and they are kept in place with a wire that wraps snugly around your teeth. While this retainer is more visible than other options, many young patients enjoy choosing bright colors or designs to personalize their treatment.

Essix retainers are made of clear plastic and are similar to Invisalign® trays. These appliances are more discreet than Hawley retainers and can be used on both the top and bottom arches. It is important to note that Essix retainers are non-adjustable, and they cannot be repaired if damaged.

Removable Retainers

Removable Retainers

A Hawley retainer features a thin metal wire, and an Essix retainer is designed like a clear aligner tray.

Designing and Fitting a Retainer

The treatment process for each retainer is unique.

  • Hawley Retainer: To manufacture a Hawley retainer, your doctor will first need to take a mold of your teeth. You will bite down onto a soft paste, which will harden when removed. This mold will then be sent to a laboratory and used to fabricate your device.
  • Essix Retainer: These retainers are created using detailed manual or digital impressions. Laboratory technicians can then custom-craft your retainer out of a clear plastic material. This device should fit comfortably and securely over all of your teeth.
  • Bonded Retainer: A bonded retainer will be carefully contoured to match the curvature of your teeth. Using dental cement, your doctor can bond the wire to your teeth. A bonding agent may first be applied to improve adhesion.

Your doctor can review each option in more detail, as well as the costs involved.

Thanks to the wide variety of comfortable, customized appliances, retainers are easy to wear and have very little impact on your daily routine.

Wearing Retainers

Most patients need to wear retainers for the rest of their lives. However, your retention plan will depend on the extent of your misalignment. For the first six months to one year, retainers should be worn full-time. They should only be removed to eat or brush your teeth. After this initial phase, many patients can switch to nighttime use only.

Cleaning Your Appliance

For patients who wear retainers, proper dental hygiene is essential. Even removable appliances can easily trap food and bacteria, causing bad breath, cavities, and gum disease. If white spots, or calcium deposits, begin to accumulate on your retainer, it may be a sign that you are not cleaning your appliance thoroughly or frequently enough. The cleaning process will differ depending on the type of retainer.

Fixed Retainers

These retainers are often harder to clean because they are bonded in place. You may wish to invest in a special floss that you can thread beneath the device or a water pick, which can target areas that are more difficult to reach. It is also important to be extra thorough when brushing the back of teeth. When it is not possible to brush immediately after eating, patients should rinse with water to dislodge particles of food.

Hawley and Essix Retainers

These can be soaked in a combination of water and vinegar or a special cleaning solution. It is also important to store your retainer in a cup of water when it is not being worn. This way, your retainer will not dry out or change shape.

Replacing Your Retainer

Retainers will eventually need to replaced because of normal wear and tear. It is important to monitor the fit of the appliances and schedule an appointment with an orthodontist when they become loose or uncomfortable. Remember, if your retainer feels tight, it may be a sign that you are not wearing it enough.

The Benefits of Retainers

Retainers can not only preserve the aesthetics of your new smile, but also your oral health. Straight teeth are easier to clean, and as a result, minimize your risk of developing decay, gum disease, and dental erosion. Thanks to the wide variety of comfortable, customized appliances, retainers are easy to wear and have very little impact on your daily routine.

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