Just because you're no longer in braces or using clear aligners, it doesn't mean your orthodontic treatment is complete.
Oh, happy day! The braces are off, and the beautiful, straight smile you've bled for and gave up those holiday caramels for is ready to shine on its own. The commitment you made to wear your clear aligners around the clock is about to pay off. Your orthodontic treatment is complete! But wait, is it?
Unfortunately, no. While the braces may have come off or you've used the last pair of aligners in your case, retainers are almost always necessary to maintain that beautiful, functional new smile.
The head, neck, jaw, and face muscles are always moving, and your teeth shift slowly throughout your lifetime. Your teeth are stable in your bone, but the ligaments around your tooth allow a minimal amount of movement. A tooth in the bone is similar to a fencepost. It may be firmly in place, but it will eventually loosen and shift if you rock it back and forth. Daily use and occasional clenching and grinding can cause slight shifting and can alter your bite.
After orthodontic treatment, teeth are still susceptible to shifting until the bone strengthens.
Ligaments that surround each tooth "remember" where they used to be, and without the use of retainers, they may move right back to where they were. Wearing your retainers erases this memory, and the risk of shifting lessens over time.
Some retainers are removable, and some are cemented to certain teeth for a while. Depending on your treatment and the amount of necessary movement, you may need to wear your retainer all day, every day for several months, and wear it at night indefinitely.
Some retainers look like clear aligners and fit over your teeth. If you used clear aligners for your orthodontic treatment, you might be able to use the last set as your retainers.
Some fit on the roof of your mouth or behind your lower front teeth, using little clips to snap into place. These need to be removed when you eat and be cleaned regularly, so they don't discolor or develop odors. These retainers are often made in a lab and, depending on the lab, can be customized with your school's colors, glitter-infused plastic, and even your favorite team logo.
Permanent retainers are a thin piece of material that is bonded to the tongue-side of your teeth to help support them.
Bits of food and plaque can get stuck in your retainer and not only make your breath smell terrible but create a breeding ground for bacteria and germs.
Brushing your retainer, regardless of the style, is the best way to keep it fresh. Remember that hot water can warp the plastic and never put your retainer in boiling water or the dishwasher.
This is old hat to patients who wore clear aligners, but when you eat, take the retainer out of your mouth, and put it in its case, so it doesn't get thrown out.
You might feel disappointed because you thought you were done with orthodontic treatment. But a retainer is just a tool used to help keep your teeth straight and your bite functional. By wearing your retainers as directed, you can prevent the need for retreatment in the future and enjoy a beautiful smile for years to come.