Retainers are removable or fixed dental appliances custom-made by an orthodontist to fit around their patient’s teeth. They are usually made with thin, clear plastic and thin wires to optimize the patient’s comfort as they are worn and work to keep the teeth in their correct position.

Retainers are worn by most individuals after dental braces are removed. This phase of the process is called the “retention” phase. Once braces are removed, the teeth will attempt to shift back to their original position. A retainer keeps the teeth in place as the jawbone stabilizes around them.

The amount of time a retainer is worn largely depends on the condition of the patient’s teeth and their age. Commitment and perseverance are essential for this phase of treatment, as patients who take out their retainers more often will experience a much longer treatment period than those who wear them as directed.

What are the different types of retainers?

Orthodontists will recommend different retainers for different patients according to their original diagnosis and the nature of their treatment plan.

Some of the most common types of retainers include:

  • Fixed retainers – These retainers are used for patients whose teeth are inclined to rapidly move back to their original positions. They are affixed to the tongue side of the teeth like lingual braces and are made up of a single wire.
  • Hawley retainer – This retainer is made up of an acrylic arch and metal wire. It fits comfortably on the palate of the mouth or lingual walls. The orthodontist will adjust the wire periodically to ensure the teeth stay in the proper position.
  • Essix retainer – Essix retainers do not affect the aesthetic quality of the smile like Hawley retainers do. They are the most common and are also one of the more affordable options. These are vacuum-formed retainers (VFR) custom-made using mouth molds and consist of a clear PVC tray that perfectly fits over the entire arch. A disadvantage of VFRs is that they scratch and break more easily than other retainers.

What to consider when wearing a retainer

To maintain the structural integrity of the retainer and the health of the teeth throughout retainer use, consider the following:

  • Keep track of your retainer – Removable retainers are easy to lose and expensive to replace. Keep your retainer in a brightly colored, easy-to-spot case while eating, drinking, and brushing your teeth rather than folding it up in a napkin or placing it down on a table or counter.
  • Don’t eat while wearing your retainer – Chewing and eating can be difficult or even impossible when wearing a retainer. VFR retainers, for instance, do not allow the teeth to meet, meaning chewing is not possible. Food can also get trapped in the retainer wire or underneath the palate of a retainer, leading to bad breath and tooth decay.
  • Don’t drink while wearing your retainer – Excess liquid can get trapped under the retainer trays, leading to prolonged acid exposure to the teeth and an increased probability of tooth decay.
  • Wear the retainer as directed – Retainers are an essential part of the orthodontic process. They give the muscles, tissues, and bone time and space to re-stabilize around the teeth, but failure to wear retainers as directed can allow the teeth to return to their original position. Yes, the braces are off and the hard part of the treatment is done, but wearing a retainer correctly will mean greater success of the treatment and save you time and money in the long run.
  • Clean your retainer properly – Thoroughly clean your retainer as often as possible to avoid excessive bacteria and calculus. You can use a toothbrush to clean Hawley retainers but should use a denture cleaner or retainer cleaner for VFR retainers, as bristles can damage their PVC surface.

If you have any questions or concerns about retainers, please contact our Brooklyn dental practitioner at Brooklyn Dentist. We offer orthodontic retainers in Brooklyn, NY for patients in Crown Heights, Fort Greene, Park Slope, Brooklyn Heights, and other neighborhoods of Brooklyn.