What You Need to Know About Retainers

Here at Champlain Orthodontics, we appreciate the hard work and dedication that our patients put into straightening their smiles! As you approach the end of your treatment and your braces come off, you might think that’s the end of your orthodontic journey. However, it’s important to know that maintaining your smile goes beyond chair time and office visits. That’s why we’re exploring what you need to know about retainers and how to maintain your smile long-term!

While you should certainly celebrate completing the most difficult part of the process, remember that this is only the first phase of orthodontic treatment. The second phase starts soon after your teeth have been straightened, and when it comes to maintaining your stunning new smile, it’s every bit as important as the first. 

This second phase of orthodontic treatment is referred to as retention, and it focuses on consistent retainer use. Retention rounds out the treatment process and is an essential part of keeping your teeth in their new, straighter positions. If you’re a current patient with Dr. Ryan and Dr. Eaton, you’ve probably already heard us talk about how important retainers are, but you may not know how they work or why they matter. To learn a little more about the different types of retainers and why wearing one is so crucial once your treatment is complete, keep reading below!

Why Retainers are Important

It’s common to experience slight shifting with your teeth in your late teens to early twenties. This is known as “relapse,” and refers to the natural tendency of teeth to drift back towards their original positions after orthodontic treatment has been completed. Retainers are the key to preventing this problem! They hold your teeth in their new positions and keep this kind of natural drifting from occurring.

Your teeth aren’t the only things we want to stay put in their new position once treatment is complete! Teeth are not just fixtures in the jaw – each one is held in place in the socket by elastic ligaments that connect the roots to the bone. These ligaments are living tissues that are affected by the movement of the teeth, and it is this attachment that allows for the small movements of the teeth during the orthodontic process.

During treatment, braces place tension on and around the teeth, facilitating the formation of new ligaments, and sometimes even bone. The first phase of treatment is the remodeling phase, and once that is complete, the new tissues, ligaments, and bone need time to stabilize. Without a retainer holding the new positions in place during stabilization, the teeth will almost always migrate back to their old positions. If you don’t wear your retainer as directed by your orthodontist after your braces come off, you may find your teeth shifting back to their old positions, undoing all the hard work you’ve put into your orthodontic treatment.  

However, at Champlain Orthodontics, we’ll give you all the tools you need to avoid relapse! Keeping your teeth in place is as simple as wearing your retainer as directed by Dr. Ryan or Dr. Eaton. The type of retainer you’re given will be determined by the specifics of your case, your preferences, your lifestyle, and your expected compliance.


Types of Retainers

Just like there are fixed and removable appliances (braces and aligners, respectively), we also offer fixed and removable retainers. At Champlain Orthodontics, we’ll give you a customized retainer upon completion of your treatment. Which type we recommend will be dependent on your unique case and what your orthodontist believes will be the best for your smile.

Fixed retainers

Fixed retainers generally consist of a thin wire bonded behind the bottom or top teeth, or sometimes both. The wire stretches across several teeth and dental care is similar to that of a patient wearing braces, especially when it comes to effective flossing. These can be a particularly helpful option for patients who have or had a large space between the two upper front teeth. 

Once you complete orthodontic treatment and the space is completely closed, a fixed retainer can be used to keep the space closed. Thanks to the bonded wire’s ability to hold newly straightened teeth in the ideal alignment over a long period, fixed retainers tend to have an excellent overall outcome. Plus, you never have to remember to wear them!

Removable retainers

When it comes to removable retainers, there are a couple of different options available. The Hawley and Essix models are both custom-designed to fit your mouth once you’ve completed treatment. Our Williston and St. Albans orthodontic team will take an impression of your newly straightened teeth and use it to create a retainer with either a clear plastic material (for an Essix retainer) or from wire and an acrylic material (for a Hawley retainer.)

Hawley retainers

This is probably what comes to mind when you think of retainers. The Hawley appliance is one of the oldest retainer models and tends to be the most common. These retainers are made of stainless steel and kept in place by wrapping a wire around your teeth that have been combined with an acrylic arch that rests against the roof of your mouth. The metal wires can be adjusted to continue minor movement of the front teeth if needed. Although many orthodontists are moving away from this more traditional retainer, it can still be very useful in some cases.

Essix retainers

Essix retainers are made entirely of clear plastic and look very similar to the clear aligners used with the Invisalign system. They are much less noticeable than traditional wire retainers and should last as long as you need them, as long as you take good care of them. These retainers may cover the entire arch of the teeth or go from canine to canine. Each one is molded to the unique shape of your mouth. 

Cleaning your teeth is easier with either of these removable retainers, but you do have to remember to wear them every day. They’re also a lot easier to misplace or damage, so it’s important to be mindful of where you place them and how you handle them.


Enjoy a Lifetime of Smiles with Champlain Orthodontics

In some cases, teeth may start shifting back to their original positions just a few days after completing treatment, especially in the first year after treatment. Modern orthodontic knowledge tells us that the most successful smiles require wearing some type of retainer indefinitely after the teeth have been straightened, but with a little patience and practice, this will become just another part of your daily routine.

Here at Champlain Orthodontics, our team is dedicated to finding exactly the right orthodontic treatment for you, including the type of retainer that will be the best for you. For more information about retention after orthodontic treatment, get in touch with our Williston or St. Albans office today. We’ll help you maintain your new smile for life!