The retainer phase of orthodontic treatment is the last and final phase in the overall orthodontic process. It plays a crucial role in maintaining the final alignment of the teeth and the beautiful smile that you and your orthodontist worked so hard to obtain.
Retainers come in many shapes and forms. The basic function of a retainer is to “retain” the teeth in the final, ideal alignment and hopefully indefinitely. However teeth do not like to remain straight. They prefer to return back to the way they were prior to orthodontic treatment. When braces are removed the bone and gums around the teeth are still very soft. Therefore if proper retainer wear is not followed the teeth can start moving back, sometimes even within hours of the braces being removed.
Every orthodontist will have his or her retainer wear protocol. Personally, I recommend retainers to be worn full time for the first 6 months after the braces are removed. Full time means 24 hours a day, only to be removed during meals, brushing, and sport activities. After 6 months of rigorous wear the retainers may be now be worn at night time only. Following a year or two after the braces were removed, the retainer wear may be gradually reduced to every other night and eventually to once a week. However, this protocol will need to be maintained throughout a patient’s life because as I mentioned earlier, teeth don’t like to remain straight and will always want to become crooked again.
Proper retainer wear is even more crucial in patients that started with severe crowding of the teeth, or those in which expanders were used and attempts were made not to extract teeth even though extractions may have been needed. In these patients, the teeth were “stretched” beyond their normal range and will therefore have a higher tendency to want to go back. Retainers may need to be worn for a longer period of time in these special cases.
Retainers therefore play a crucial role in preserving the proper alignment of the teeth. Proper retainer wear must be followed to maintain a lifelong, beautiful, and healthy smile.
Dr. Reza Salmassian is a Board Certified Orthodontist. For any questions regarding this article or to schedule your complimentary orthodontic evaluation, please contact Dr. Salmassian’s office at 661-222-7444 or visit us at www.salmassianortho.com