While braces are usually the most talked-about part of orthodontic treatment, there’s a strong argument that retainers are just as important. Wearing a retainer is absolutely essential for keeping your child’s teeth straight after braces. With several options available, retainers have become more comfortable than ever. They are also easy to clean and maintain. With a little encouragement, your child can make wearing their retainer a healthy habit.
Why are Retainers Important?
Once braces are removed, the teeth often want to return to their original positions within the mouth. Braces may have successfully moved your child’s teeth into place, but their bones, gums, and muscles need reminders that they must help the teeth stay put. This is where a retainer comes in. Retainers prevent teeth from relapsing – or moving back to their former position – and ensure the long-term success of orthodontic treatment.
What is an Orthodontic Retainer?
A retainer is a custom-made appliance that keeps teeth from moving back to their pre-treatment positions. Most retainers are removable, but in some circumstances, your orthodontist may recommend a fixed retainer as part of your program.
There are two major types of removable retainers. The Hawley retainer is an acrylic arch molded to the palate with wire attached to hold the teeth in place. The second type is a clear plastic retainer, similar to a night guard, that is molded to the shape of your child’s teeth – in their new position.
A fixed retainer is simply a thin wire bonded to the inside of upper or lower front teeth. Fixed retainers are typically used in cases where teeth are susceptible to moving back quickly or dramatically and need to be held in place around the clock.
How Often Will My Child Need to Wear a Retainer, and How Long?
In most cases, wearing a removable retainer is progressive. Your orthodontist will usually want your child to wear it most of the time at first so that his or her muscles can get used to the new position of their teeth. Then she may recommend transitioning to nighttime use only.
In order to maintain that perfect post-braces smile, most patients need some form of retainer for life.
Tips for Wearing and Caring for Your Retainer
As with braces, the most important tip is to follow your orthodontist’s instructions carefully. And just like with braces, your child may need some time to adapt to the new appliance. Try placing reminders around the house or rewarding retainer usage as a way to encourage your child in the beginning.
- Have your child remove the retainer when she eats or drinks. This keeps food and bacteria from building up in the appliance.
- Talking may be a challenge at first, but assure your child that it will get easier as they get more comfortable with it.
- Ask your orthodontist about cleaning instructions. In most cases, it’s okay to brush a removable retainer with a toothbrush.
- Many dental care professionals recommend a once-a-week cleaning with a retainer-specific cleaner to disinfect it, but consult with your orthodontist first before doing so.
- Never boil the retainer to sanitize it; the hot water will damage it.
- Retainers should only go in two places: the case or the mouth. Have you child keep their retainer in its case when they are not wearing it. It may be a good idea to get them one for home and one for school. This helps keep the retainer clean and prevents damage.
- In the case of a fixed retainer, regular flossing is key. Your dentist or orthodontist may recommend a water flosser to keep your child’s teeth and appliance clean.
Make sure to schedule and keep follow-up appointments with your dentist and orthodontist. The orthodontist will want to see your child regularly to make sure that his or her teeth are staying where they should be.
Regular cleanings at the dentist’s office are also necessary. Food and bacteria can get caught in the retainer, so it’s important to schedule regular check-ups to ensure that the appliance isn’t contributing to tooth decay.
Retainers: Keeping Teeth Straight Long-Term
Braces are a big deal; there’s no doubt about it. They are a significant investment of both time and money. They are often a necessary first step, though, in getting your child on the path to straight teeth and a healthy smile.
As with most interventions in the healthcare field, maintenance is key. If your child can make wearing their retainer a healthy habit, then you can ensure that those gorgeous teeth stay exactly where they need to be!