All You Need to Know about Retainers

Anyone who has had braces understands the joy that comes when you can finally get them off. You no longer have to go in for adjustments, or apply wax to keep the wires from tearing up the insides of your cheeks. Also, foods that were once off limits, like apples, candy, and corn on the cob, are now fair game.

In a perfect world, removing braces would be the end of your orthodontics journey, but the fact is, you still have another step to go to maintain those beautifully straightened teeth. Once the braces come off, you need to wear a retainer for several months or even years after.

What is a Retainer?

A retainer is an appliance that keeps your teeth from shifting back into their old position. These devices are extremely important because, without them, you will undo all of the time and money you spent wearing braces to "correct" your teeth or a bad bite.

Most retainers are removable, and consist of a plastic base or body molded to the shape of your mouth, with wires anchored to the body to hold your teeth in place. You could have a retainer for your upper teeth, your lower teeth, or both.

How to Use a Retainer

In the first several months after your braces come off, your orthodontist will recommend that you wear your retainer at all times.

Most retainers are removable so that you can take them out to brush your teeth or when you are eating sticky foods. However, you should not leave the retainer out for long periods of time, and should follow your orthodontist's instructions for wearing them. After several months to a year, your orthodontist may advise you to only wear the retainer while sleeping, and to eventually stop wearing it entirely.

Taking Care of Your Retainer

  • Always store your retainer in its case when you are not wearing it. Do not store it loose in your bag, or around your home. The wires on the retainer are customized to your mouth and are very delicate, to they can bend and break easily. The base can also be broken by dropping it, or stepping on it.
  • If you remove the retainer while eating, avoid wrapping it in a napkin, because you could accidentally throw it away.
  • To clean the retainer, scrub it with your toothbrush when you brush your teeth. Use a soft-bristled brush and brush gently to avoid breaking the wires.
  • After brushing the retainer clean, rinse it with warm water to make sure you remove all toothpaste residue.
  • Avoid flipping the retainer in and out of your mouth when you wear it. It’s an easy habit to acquire, and it is also a sure-fire way to break a wire.
  • If a wire does break, contact your orthodontist immediately for a repair or replacement. Wearing a retainer with broken wires defeats the purpose of the retainer, and the wires could cut up your mouth.

Retainers are the final step in the process of straightening your teeth. It may seem like a bummer to have to put one more thing in your mouth once your braces have been removed, but retainers are fairly easy to wear, and they play a key role in preserving your new smile.

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