Whether you’ve had your braces on for years, or been wearing Invisalign aligners for a few months, it’s an exciting time when you finally have them removed or can quit wearing them. With this first step of orthodontic treatment completed, you can feel a little freer and smile a little brighter. But don’t get too carried away in your celebrations just yet – you’ve got a little further to go!
Whatever orthodontic method you used to straighten your teeth, there’s a second step of treatment necessary to round out the process and help maintain your beautiful new smile. Wearing a retainer regularly is an integral part of keeping your teeth in their new and improved positions, which is why our patients here at IOM Ortho will hear us drive that point home many, many times over the course of treatment!
Because routine retainer use is so essential to prevent your teeth from drifting back into their old placements, our team has put together this helpful guide to help you understand why retainers are so important after the first phase of orthodontic treatment.
So, what exactly is a retainer?
A retainer is a fairly straightforward orthodontic appliance that’ designed to fit your mouth. They’re made by taking a scan of your straightened teeth, then fabricated out of a clear plastic material (for an Essix retainer) or from wire and an acrylic material (for a Hawley retainer).
Most orthodontists now recommend that some type of retainer be worn part-time for the rest of your life after the teeth have been straightened. We know that sounds completely overwhelming at first! However, with a little patience and practice, wearing your retainer can easily become a part of your daily routine. Before you know it, wearing it a few nights a week while you’re sleeping will be all you need to keep your teeth in the desired positions permanently. And you get the added bonus of easily whitening your teeth with the Eversmile Foam!
When you first wear the retainer, it may feel a little weird, and it can sometimes affect your speech temporarily. But even if there’s some initial discomfort, you’ll still need to commit to wearing it as recommended. Failing to do so can keep it from doing its job, which means your teeth could begin shifting back, eventually leaving you right where you started.
Gum and bone alignment
After your braces come off or your last Invisalign aligner is used, your teeth aren’t the only things we need to stay put! The gums and bones in your mouth will need to align to these new positions, too. The soft and hard tissues that are around the teeth can sometimes take a little longer to align to a different position, but by wearing your retainer as directed, you can help the gums and bones to realign, and your new bite to stabilize.
Teeth aren’t just fixed in the jaw. Each tooth is held in its socket by elastic ligaments that attach the roots to the bone. Those ligaments are living tissue affected by the movement of the teeth, and it’s actually this attachment that allows for the small movements of the teeth during treatment. When tension is placed in and around the teeth via braces or Invisalign, new ligaments, and sometimes even bone, are formed.
Once the remodelling phase has been completed, those tissues, ligaments, and bone will need time to stabilize. Without the help of a retainer to hold these new positions as they stabilize, the teeth will almost always migrate back to their old positions. It can take anywhere from several months to a few years for the new position of your teeth to become more permanent.
Here at IOM Ortho we will always keep your last scan taken at the time when your braces are removed – if you need a new retainer at any time, it is best to use this scan to make it and it usually takes only a few days. So make sure you keep in touch when your treatment is finished!