The day a patient’s braces come off is a day of celebration. Patients can enjoy their straight new smiles. But that doesn’t mean orthodontic treatment is over yet.

Now begins the final and most important stage of your treatment: Retention. There are a few different type of retainers, and just like orthodontic treatment, how and when a patient wears a retainer will be different, and depends on individual needs.

Why do I have to wear a retainer?
Retainers have a very important job once braces are removed. They work to hold teeth in their new location, ensuring a lifetime of straight teeth. The reason retainers are so important is because in order for teeth to move, the bone and tissues around them are “loosened.” The braces work to guide them to their ideal spots, but the ligaments and tissues of the mouth tend to be elastic. Without a retainer to allow the rest of the mouth to get used to the new positions, your teeth could go right back to where they were before.

What types of retainers available?
There are several different types of retainers, and they may be either fixed or removable. A fixed retainer is a thin wire that will be worn across the back of the teeth, and bonded permanently into place. This type of retainer is often used in patients who may be at a high risk for relapse. Because the retainer is bonded in place, it ensures that the teeth remain in their new location permanently.

Removable retainers serve the same purpose as fixed retainers, however, it is up to the patient to wear them as directed by the orthodontist. There are different types of removable retainers. Hawley retainers are the most common ones, and probably what you picture when you think of retainers. They consist of a metal wire that goes over the teeth, and an acrylic piece that adheres to the shape of your mouth. Essix retainers resemble Invisalign clear aligners, and fit all the way over the teeth. Some patients prefer the Essix retainers for cosmetic purposes.

How long will I need to wear a retainer?
The length of time you will need to wear your retainer, and your schedule for wearing it, will be determined by your orthodontist. It is important that you wear it as directed by your orthodontist to prevent relapse. For many patients, they will need to wear the retainer around the clock for the first several months, only taking it out to eat and clean their teeth. Then, once the tissues and ligaments around the teeth settle, most patients can switch to wearing them at night only. Continued wear of the retainer will ensure your smile lasts a lifetime.

How should I care for my retainer?
Proper care of your retainer will depend on the type of retainer you have. Hawley and Essix retainers should be brushed regularly with a toothbrush and cold water. Never use toothpaste, as this can damage the acrylic of the retainer. Denture soaks and other antibacterial soaks can help keep your retainers clean.

Always carry a retainer case with you, so that when you remove your retainers to eat or care for your teeth you will have a safe place to store them. Never wrap your retainers in a napkin, as it can easily be mistaken for trash. Keep your retainers out of areas that can get very hot, especially cars in the summer, as this can warp the material. Keep retainers away from pets – more than one patient has had a retainer damaged by one!

What do I do if my retainer doesn’t fit anymore?
If you find that your retainers feel too tight or simply don’t sit well, it may be because you have forgotten to wear them for an extended period of time, and now your teeth have shifted. It’s important to schedule an appointment with your orthodontist to have the retainers adjusted right away, and to get your smile back on track.

Will a retainer alter my speech?
You may find in the beginning that your speech sounds different with retainers on. This is because retainers cause your mouth to create more saliva and alter the position of the tongue. But, as your mouth gets used to the appliance, this will diminish and your speech will go back to normal. If you are self-conscious, practice speaking in front of a mirror. The more you practice, the faster your speech will get back to normal.

What happens if my fixed retainer breaks?
If you feel like your fixed retainer has come loose, schedule an appointment with your orthodontist right away. He or she can repair the retainer in most instances, ensuring your teeth stay as they are. Even though your braces have been removed, you’ll still need to avoid certain foods to prevent the fixed retainers from breaking.

How do I floss my teeth with the fixed retainer in place?
Flossing with a fixed retainer in place isn’t an easy task, but after your time in braces, you are a pro at threading floss over and under brackets and wires. You may find a floss threader comes in very handy while you are wearing your fixed retainer.

What happens if I don’t wear my retainer?

If you don’t wear your retainer as recommended, you will find that over time, you teeth will shift. You’ll notice your bite feeling slightly off, and you may even notice some spacing and other similar issues popping up that had been corrected with the braces. For many patients, they can go back to wearing the retainers and get the issue back under control. But for other patients, they may need to undergo orthodontic treatment once again.

Retainers serve an important purpose in helping patients maintain their straight, properly functioning smiles. In order to ensure that your new smile lasts, it is important to wear your retainer as directed by your orthodontist, and take special care to avoid damaging it. You will find that as you age, your teeth will have a tendency to shift naturally, but maintaining retainer wear can ensure that all the hard work you put in during your orthodontic treatment doesn’t go to waste.

Dr. Salmassian is a Board Certified Orthodontist and specializes in comprehensive orthodontic care for the whole family. For any Questions regarding this article or to schedule your complimentary orthodontic consultation please contact our office at 661-222-7444 or visit us at