How Retainers Work and How to Take Care of Them

Doctor showing aligners

So you’ve just gotten your braces off; congratulations! It’s always so exciting when someone first gets their braces off so they can show off those beautiful and neatly straightened pearly whites! But, as do most people when they get their braces off, you’ll probably need to wear a retainer full-time for a little while. Don’t worry, not for too long! After about three to six months, wearing it nightly does the job.

Since you’ll be getting very well acquainted with your retainer, you’ll need to be familiar with how it works and how to take care of it. If you want to take extra good care of all the hard work Dr. Dudley (or any orthodontist) has put into your new smile, that retainer is going to stick with you for the rest of your life, so it’s in your best interest to take good care of it. At Dudley Smiles, we want to make sure you know exactly how a retainer works and how to take good care of it.

Post-treatment Movement-

As nice as it is to believe that your teeth with be straight forever once you get your braces off, it’s never the case. There’s an immediate tendency for your teeth to shift back to their positions before you got braces for at least 18 months after you get them taken off. After that, there is still a tendency for them to shift but it lessens as time goes on and as you age. However, it is still important (and highly recommended) to wear your retainer indefinitely to hold your teeth in their correct positions.


Braces at Dudley Smiles in Kent and Issaquah

What are retainers?

Retainers are just a fitted piece of plastic and/or metal device that holds your teeth in place after a patient completes their treatment with braces or Invisalign. They are designed specifically for each patient in mind and works to keep teeth from shifting back to their position before receiving braces. There are a few different types of retainers: most can be removed, but some stay in your mouth permanently behind your teeth. Two removable types of retainers include Hawley retainers and Essix retainers. Hawley retainers are primarily used for the upper teeth and consist of a plastic piece that fits over the top of the inner mouth and a wire that fits over the front of the teeth. Essix retainers are very similar looking to Invisalign, as they are entirely clear and fit over the teeth and are barely noticeable.


Can I go without wearing a retainer?

If you don’t wear your retainer for an extended period, you’ll wind up with a few problems from shifted teeth. Once you have worn your retainer full time for the amount that your orthodontist has suggested, you should wear it nightly or every other night. If you skip a day or two, then your teeth shouldn’t have shifted enough that getting them to fit would be a problem. However, if you go a few weeks, or maybe even a few days, without wearing them, there might be some discomfort getting the retainer to fit because your teeth will likely have shifted a little bit. Most patients start out wearing their retainers as often as they’re told, but as time goes on and the older they get, some go extended periods of time without wearing them, or they even stop wearing them altogether, which can result in noticeably shifted teeth.

What happens if I do go a long time without wearing a retainer?

Sometimes, you can fit the retainer over your teeth anyway if they have only shifted slightly, but it might be a tight fit. Over time, if you wear it often enough, your teeth should move back to the way they were when you first received your retainer. That’s only if your teeth have shifted slightly. Dudley Smiles does not recommend that you try and force the retainer to fit over your teeth, and if it does require force, be sure to contact us so that we can get you fitted for a new one.

dudley smiles issaquah kent braces invisalign

How to Take Care of Your Retainer

Now that you know exactly how a retainer works, you also need to know how to take good care of it to ensure you can keep using it for years to come.

Take it out when you eat-

This is one of the few times you’ll be taking your retainer out during the first couple of months after getting your braces off. You wouldn’t want to leave it in your mouth while eating because food and plaque could get stuck in it. Try and bring your retainer case with you so that you can put it in there when you’re not using it. Avoid putting it on or in a napkin. We’ve heard too many stories of people accidentally throwing them away!


Store it and clean it-

Cleaning your retainer should be a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how often people forget. You can brush it with a toothbrush and toothpaste, and try to do that regularly to remove tartar on the surface. If you’re past the point of having to wear it all the time, you can use baking soda or denture cleaner mixed with water and let it soak during the day. When storing it, keep it in a container that has some airflow so that mold and bacteria don’t grow on it. Also, don’t use harsh chemicals on your retainers, like bleach or alcohol-based mouthwash. And definitely, do not boil your retainer: it can melt the plastic and warp the metal.


Take it out when you brush your teeth-

Always take your retainer out when you brush your teeth. Sure, your teeth may be straight, but they still won’t look that great if you’re not even brushing them directly! Just be sure to take them out when you brush your teeth and then clean them separately, and then you can pop them right back in when you’re done!  Whether you are getting a retainer or looking to start an oral treatment for your teeth Dudley Smiles is happy to help you on the path to a beautiful smile. Feel free to contact us and schedule a free consultation.

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