Braces are usually worn for anywhere from as little as eighteen months to as long as three years. But the braces themselves are only the beginning. After they’re finally removed, there’s a second stage: retention.
If left alone, newly straightened teeth can shift back toward their former positions. Teeth aren’t anchored all that strongly in the bone, and there’s always a small degree of mobility. Chewing, movements of your facial muscles, pressure from your tongue and lips, and other factors can all shift your teeth gradually. Retainers are designed to help mitigate the effects of as many of these forces as possible, preventing the original problems from coming back.
There are two commonly used types of retainers: removable retainers and fixed retainers.
Removable retainers are the most commonly used variety. These can be further classified as Hawley retainers or Essix retainers. They are removed while you’re eating, then put back in afterward. Hawley retainers are made from metal and acrylic, with a visible wire in front of the upper teeth. For aesthetic reasons, many people prefer Essix retainers. Made of clear plastic, they resemble Invisalign, and are not obvious when worn. However, Essix retainers are a bit more fragile than Hawley retainers.
There are also fixed retainers, also known as permanent retainers. These are installed along the back of the teeth, where they’re not visible. Unlike a removable retainer, you don’t have to worry about remembering to wear it, or about removing it during meals. These can produce better long-term results than removable retainers. This option is ideal for people who are concerned about forgetting about their removable retainer, and don’t want to deal with having to take something in and out every day.
Unlike braces, retainers are worn long-term Your orthodontist will actively monitor your retention for up to twelve months after your braces are removed, but after that, it’s up to you to wear them. Over the course of a few years, you can gradually reduce the amount of time each day that you wear your retainer. However, you’re probably going to be wearing it at night for years. If you stop wearing your retainer, you may experience undesirable changes in the position and appearance of your teeth. While it’s not necessarily a lifelong commitment, people who get the best results often wear their retainer at night for five years or more after having braces. If this sounds unmanageable, talk to your orthodontist about fixed retainers.
It’s your responsibility to remember to use your retainer, and to decide how long to continue wearing it at night. If removable retainers aren’t used as directed, it’s very likely that your teeth will very gradually shift back over the course of several years. But if worn correctly, retainers help ensure lasting results from your orthodontic treatment, improving your oral health and helping your teeth look their best.