The day you get your braces taken off is cause for celebration! You’re not done just yet, though. Once your teeth have been moved into place, you need a retainer to keep them there.
Teeth aren’t just anchored in your jaw bones, which is a good thing because if they were, you wouldn’t be able to move them with orthodontic treatment. Your teeth are held in place by a network of fibers called periodontal ligaments. After your treatment moves your teeth into new positions, it takes awhile for those fibers to stabilize.
Even after your periodontal ligaments are adjusted, though, teeth can move throughout your lifetime. Your orthodontist will probably instruct you to sleep with your retainer for the rest of your life.
In modern orthodontic treatment, there are 3 common types of retainers: permanent retainers, Hawley retainers, and clear plastic retainers.
Permanent Retainer Pros and Cons
Permanent retainers are thin metal wires which are glued to the back of you teeth, usually used on your bottom front teeth. They’re bonded with the same cement that is used to put your brackets on.
With a permanent retainer, you don’t have to think about wearing it. It’s not going to get lost, and there’s very little chance that you’re going to damage it.
Other people can’t usually tell you’re wearing a permanent retainer because it’s discretely glued to the backs of your teeth.
Some people find permanent retainers more comfortable, too. There are no pieces to get in the way while you talk or chew, and most of the time, you won’t even think about it being there.
Permanent retainers stay in your mouth all the time, including while you eat, brush, and floss. Because they don’t come out, they can make oral hygiene a little tricky.
Food particles can get caught in your retainer wire, and if you’re not diligent about brushing after meals, that may contribute to plaque buildup and gum disease.
Flossing with a permanent retainer is sort of like flossing with braces. You’ll need a floss threader to get a proper clean.
Even with a permanent retainer, your teeth may still shift a little bit because the wire is thin and flexible. Movement will be minimal.
Hawley Retainer Pros and Cons
Hawley retainers are probably what you picture when you think about retainers. They’re made of acrylic that’s molded to the inside of your mouth, and metal wires go around your teeth to hold them in place.
Unlike bonded retainers, they can be removed, and it’s up to you to wear them according to your orthodontist’s instructions.
Hawley retainers last for a long time if they’re properly cared for, and since they’re pretty durable, care isn’t difficult.
These types of retainers come in a wide variety of colors, including glittery hues, so those who like personalization can be as stylish as desired. The acrylic doesn’t stain or scratch easily so you’ll probably have the same retainer for years to come.
Being able to remove your retainer for eating and oral hygiene is nice, too. You can clean your Hawley retainer with a toothbrush and toothpaste, or you can use a denture cleaner if you prefer.
Being able to remove your retainer has downsides, too. Dogs love chewing on Hawley retainers, and at $150 to $300 for a retainer, that’s an expensive chew toy!
This style of retainer is visible in your mouth because the metal wire sits in front of your teeth. Eventually, you’ll probably only need to wear it while you sleep, but if you’re eager for a wireless smile after your braces come off, you may find it a little disappointing to need to wear your retainer all the time.
Feeling your retainer in your mouth will probably take a little getting used to, and you might speak slightly differently at first. Some people find that they produce more saliva while wearing a Hawley retainer.
A retainer that isn’t cleaned properly can grow colonies of bacteria, which is kind of gross to put in your mouth. Make sure you follow all your orthodontist’s instructions to keep things clean and healthy.
Clear Plastic Retainer Pros and Cons
Clear plastic retainers, sometimes called Essix retainers, look sort of like Invisalign. They’re thin, clear trays that fit snugly over your teeth to prevent movement.
Since this type of retainer is molded to each tooth, they do the best job at preventing movement.
The thin plastic is almost invisible and unless you say something, nobody will know you’re wearing an Essix retainer. Some people find them more comfortable, too.
Clear retainers have all the same removability benefits as Hawley retainers – they come out for eating and cleaning, and you can choose to remove them for things like photos if you want.
Some orthodontists prefer not to use clear plastic retainers because the thin layer of plastic between your teeth can very subtly shift your bite. It depends on your personal case whether or not they’re a good option.
Essix retainers are also more expensive and less durable than other types of retainers. For people who have a tendency to grind their teeth, play contact sports, or might be a little careless with the appliance while it’s taken out, a Hawley retainer is a better choice.
Using toothpaste on a clear plastic retainer can scratch the material, so care is slightly more difficult. Even with proper care, you’ll still need a new retainer annually because of normal wear and tear.
No matter what kind of retainer you choose…
Be sure to wear your retainer exactly as your orthodontist recommends. You don’t want to be one of those people who forget their retainer for months on end, only to try to put it in one night and discover that it no longer fits.
Your teeth will continue to shift for the rest of your life. Use your retainer so that all the work you put in getting the smile you want doesn’t go to waste.