We know just how much work you’ve put into achieving an amazing smile throughout the treatment process, and the Humphrey Orthodontics team is proud of you for following all of our recommendations and taking good care of your teeth while we worked to straighten them!
Now that you’re nearing the end of the active phase of treatment, you’re probably looking forward to getting your braces off or taking out your last clear aligners. While that’s definitely an exciting moment to look forward to, remember that there’s one more phase of treatment to come: retention. Read on for everything you need to know about the biggest part of that process, retainers!
This retention phase rounds out your treatment process and will keep your newly straightened teeth in place once your appliance has been removed. You’ve heard us talk often about why regular retainer use is essential, but you may not understand exactly why it’s so important for maintaining your smile. Since that’s what the retention phase revolves around, now’s the perfect time to learn a little bit more about these orthodontic staples! Keep reading below for a closer look at the basics of retention, the different kinds of retainers we offer, and why regular wear is the key to long-lasting results.
Why are retainers such an important part of the orthodontic process?
Unfortunately, the effects of braces and clear aligners aren’t permanent on their own. That’s because of a phenomenon known as relapse, which refers to the natural tendency of the teeth to drift back towards their original positions as we age. This generally begins in your late teens or early twenties and can occur even if you’ve completed orthodontic treatment. Retainers play a major role in preventing this type of relapse by holding your teeth in their new positions.
To understand why retainers are such a big deal, we need to look at a few facts about teeth. For example, teeth aren’t just fixtures in the jaw—each one is held in its socket by elastic ligaments that attach the roots to the bone. These ligaments are living tissues that are affected by the movement of the teeth, and it’s this attachment that allows for the small movements of the teeth during treatment.
Dr. Humphrey uses orthodontic appliances like braces and aligners to create tension on and around the teeth, which encourages the formation of new ligaments and bones that hold your teeth in better positions. This is known as the remodeling phase of treatment. Once this is complete, the newly formed tissues, ligaments, and bone will need time to stabilize. This happens in part during the retention phase. If there’s nothing to hold the teeth in place during this phase, they’re almost certain to migrate back to their old positions.
So what does that mean for you? If you don’t wear your retainer once the active phase of treatment is complete, your teeth will eventually start shifting back to their old positions, undoing all your hard work. Thankfully, it’s easy for you to avoid relapse! Keeping your teeth in place is as simple as wearing your retainer as directed by our doctors. They’ll choose the best type of retainer for you based on your unique needs, preferences, and expected compliance.
What types of retainers are available?
Here at Humphrey, we offer patients fixed appliances like braces and removable appliances like Invisalign clear aligners. We have a similar range of options when it comes to retainers! Here’s a look at the different types of retainers available at our Wentzville and St. Peters offices:
Fixed retainers are generally made of a thin wire that’s bonded behind the bottom teeth. Sometimes we will do one behind the upper front teeth – These can be a particularly helpful option for patients who had treatment for a large space between the two upper front teeth. Once treatment is complete and the space is completely closed, a fixed retainer can be used to keep it that way.
Since the wire stretches across several teeth, dental hygiene is similar to that of a braces patient. If you have a fixed retainer, you’ll need to be especially careful with brushing and flossing to ensure it stays clean.
When it comes to removable retainers, there are a couple of different options available at Humphrey. The Hawley and Essix (clear) retainers are both custom-designed to fit your mouth for the best results. When you complete the active phase of treatment, our team will take a digital scan with our iTero scanner of your teeth to create your retainer.
Hawley retainers are one of the oldest types of retainers, and the ones you’d be most likely to recognize. They’re made of stainless steel and kept in place by wrapping a wire around your teeth. That wire has been combined with an acrylic arch that rests against the roof of your mouth, and it can be adjusted to continue minor movement of the front teeth if needed. While many orthodontists are moving away from using Hawley retainers, they can still be very useful in certain cases.
Essix retainers look very similar to the clear aligners used with the Invisalign & Spark systems. They’re made entirely of transparent plastic and molded to the unique shape of the patient’s mouth. Essix retainers may cover the entire arch of the teeth or only go from canine to canine. This type of retainer is very subtle and should last as long as you need it, provided you care for it properly.
Cleaning your teeth is easier with removable retainers, but you will have to remember to wear them daily as recommended by your doctor. They can be pretty easy to misplace or damage, so you’ll also need to be mindful of where it is at all times and be careful when handling it.
Keep your new smile with Humphrey Orthodontics
Contemporary orthodontic experts agree that the majority of orthodontic patients will need to wear a retainer after their active treatment is complete, but don’t let that worry you! Your retainer will become just another part of your daily life before you know it. Once you have everything you need to know about retainers, you can take on this final phase of treatment with confidence!
Our expert Humphrey Orthodontics team is committed to finding exactly the right orthodontic treatment for your smile, including the type of retainer that will be the best fit for you! Our goal is to give you a beautiful smile that’s fully functional for many years to come, and all the information to help you achieve that goal, so get in touch today if you have questions about retainers or the retention phase!