While you’re reading this, try to push one of your teeth with a finger. It seems to be solidly in place, right? But in reality, your teeth are not fixed into their spots. They can and do move and shift, which is why orthodontics is even possible to begin with. If your teeth couldn’t move, your orthodontist could never have arranged your teeth to make a beautiful smile.
But this aspect of your teeth also has a downside. Namely, it’s that your teeth won’t necessarily stay where they are after orthodontic treatment is over. Over the years, they may begin working their way back to their original positions. In addition, the forces of your jaw and tongue—the opening, closing, biting, chewing, and general activity day after day—will exert minute forces on your teeth. Over time, these forces may impel the teeth to move.
This is why retainers are so important. They are there to keep your teeth from shifting and undoing the work of your orthodontic treatment. Right after your treatment is done is the most important time to wear a retainer because the structures in your jaw that support your teeth need time to set around the new positions. Even later, teeth can shift, and a retainer will prevent this from happening.
There are two general types of retainers, permanent and removable. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages.
A permanent retainer, also sometimes called a bonded retainer, is essentially a wire that’s attached (or bonded) to the back of your teeth.
- Effective – Permanent retainers are always there and doing their job. They can’t be temporarily removed or ever lost. You’ll never accidently leave it at home when you go on vacation.
- Discreet –They’re installed behind the teeth so it will be hard for others to know you’re wearing one.
- Long–lasting – The glue that holds a bonded retainer on your upper teeth will last several years, and a bonded lower retainer will need to be replaced even less often.
- Harder to clean – Flossing in particular can take a little longer as you’ll have to use special threaders or tools.
- Dental visits – Bonded retainers can promote build-up of calculus, meaning you really should stay on top of recommended biannual cleanings.
- Annoying – Bonded retainers are more lightweight than braces, but some people don’t like the feel of the wires on the back of their teeth.
Removable retainers are made of plastic. One type of retainer, called the Hawley retainer, fits into the roof of your mouth or in the space between your tongue and back teeth. Hawley retainers include wires that wrap around the front of teeth to keep them from drifting. Essix retainers, on the other hand, fit directly over your teeth and have no wires.
- Removable – Yes, these are called “removable” retainers for a reason. Nothing is installed in your mouth, and you can take them out when you need to.
- Transparent – Clear plastic means these retainers are even more inconspicuous than bonded retainers.
- Easy cleaning – Because you can remove them, you can stay on top of oral care and clean the retainers easily too.
- Not as versatile – You will need to take them out to eat or play sports.
- Losable – When you take these out, they might get accidently misplaced or thrown away. It happens.
- Less durable – Removable retainers need to be replaced every so often. You can, however, arrange for new ones to be mailed to you.
This overview should give you a good idea of the differences between types of retainers. Consider which would be best for your specific situation considering your teeth and your lifestyle, and feel free to ask us for personalized recommendations.