The Final Step of Adult Orthodontic Treatment

There’s nothing like seeing your brand new smile for the first time when your braces finally come off. You’ll be free of wires, bands, and brackets, and will be able to eat what you want. Best of all, you’ll have a perfect smile that you can proudly show off for years to come. However, after this happy occasion, there is still one final phase of orthodontic treatment —retention. As your orthodontist serving adults and children in Bellingham and Anacortes, we at Damon Orthodontics are committed to helping our patients get the best results from their treatment to achieve the smile of their dreams. Keep reading to learn about retention and why it’s so critical to maintaining your new smile.

What is Retention?

Retention is a critical follow-through stage in which orthodontic patients wear an oral appliance called a retainer. Several different kinds of retainers are available, all of which are custom-made to fit your smile. Your Bellingham orthodontist will recommend the type (or types) that will work best in your situation, and instruct you on exactly when and how long to wear them.

Why Do I Need to Wear A Retainer?

If your teeth are straight now, why do you need a retainer at all? Simply put, it’s because if you don’t wear one, your teeth will start moving right back into their former positions.

Teeth aren’t set rigidly in the jawbone; instead, they’re held in place by a network of fibers called the periodontal ligaments. After your teeth have been moved, it takes several months for the periodontal ligaments to adjust to the new position. So, if you want to keep that new smile—and not waste all the time, effort, and money it took to get it—It’s essential to wear your retainer as directed by your orthodontist.

Being fitted for a retainer usually happens on the same day your braces are removed. After your teeth are thoroughly cleaned, we may take another set of X-rays and/or bite impressions, to check how well your braces worked and to see how much your wisdom teeth have developed. Then, we’ll discuss your retainer and start getting it ready.

Types of Retainers

There are three basic types of retainers available today; each works best in particular situations.

The “Hawley” retainer is a thin, tongue-shaped piece of acrylic molded to fit your mouth, with a wire that holds your teeth in position. The Hawley retainer is simple, durable and easily removed. It’s even possible to personalize it by choosing different colors and designs for the plastic arch. It can also be adjusted to correct minor tooth movements.

clear retainer, which looks similar to the Invisalign® tray system, is custom-made of thin, transparent plastic designed to fit precisely over your teeth. The main advantage of a clear retainer is that it’s invisible, with no wires showing. These retainers are also easy to remove, but they may be somewhat less durable than the Hawleys.

A fixed retainer may also be an option. As the name implies, they aren’t removable by the wearer—but they aren’t visible either. This system uses a wire which is bonded to the tongue side of the teeth. It may remain in place for months, or longer. This type of retainer is sometimes recommended when there’s a high risk that teeth could revert to their former position

Getting Used to Your Retainer

After a short time, most patients adjust quite well to wearing a retainer. Some may find that they produce more saliva than usual for a day or so after first wearing any type of retainer, but this is a normal reaction to a foreign object in the mouth. You may also find it a little harder to talk normally at first, but that problem will soon disappear. Of course, removable retainers should always be taken out when you eat or brush your teeth—a big change from braces!

To start, you will probably be instructed to wear your removable retainer all day, every day. This period of 24/7 retainer use generally lasts from several months up to a year. After this, we may approve wearing your retainer only at night, and later, you may need to wear it just a few nights a week.

Caring For Your Retainer

To stay fresh and germ-free, all retainers need proper cleaning. A soft toothbrush and a few drops of dishwashing liquid or other mild liquid soap can be used to clean most removable retainers. Denture cleaners, in powder or tablet form, as well as special retainer cleaners, can also be used. Fixed retainers are cleaned by brushing and flossing; a floss threader or interproximal brush can also be a helpful cleaning tool when needed.

Finally, remember to always carry and use a retainer case. You’d be surprised how many retainers end up folded in a napkin and accidentally discarded! Also, don’t expose your retainer to excess heat by washing it in very hot water or leaving it on a heater; heat can cause the retainer to warp and make it unusable. With proper care and conscientious use, a retainer will help you transition from braces to a permanent, healthy smile.

Contact Your Orthodontist in Bellingham!

As your trusted orthodontist in Bellingham and Anacortes, we at Damon Orthodontics are committed to creating gorgeous, healthy smiles that will last a lifetime. If you have further questions on retention, or if you’re considering adult orthodontics to transform your smile, book an appointment today or give us a call at (360) 676-6060 for our Bellingham office, or (360) 293-2888 for our Anacortes office. You may also reach out to us at our contact page. We can’t wait to provide you with the smile of your dreams!