Orthodontic work has two stages: First, teeth are gradually guided into their correct position with braces or Invisalign. Once the teeth are straight, they then have to be held in their new places while the gums and bone adapt around the new positions. Maintaining the location of the teeth is usually done with a retainer, a device to keep teeth aligned in the mouth.
There are a few varieties of retainers, each with their own strengths and considerations.
Types of Retainers
Removable Wire Retainers
The most commonly recognized retainer is the Hawley retainer, which is a removable wire retainer. Removable wire retainers incorporate a wire guide for the teeth that anchors the retainer to the back teeth and a molded acrylic plate that rests upon the roof of the mouth or, in lower retainers, the bottom inside of the gums.
Wire retainers have the advantage of being removable— they can be taken out for eating and cleaning, making dental hygiene easier. When braces are finished, retainers are usually worn 24 hours per day for the first few months. People with wire retainers often reach a point where the retainer is worn only at night.
Of all the types of retainers, Hawley retainers are the quickest to adjust. If minor movements occur in the teeth, a removable wire retainer can be changed without the construction of a whole new retainer.
There are a few concerns with removable wire retainers. Because they are removable, they are prone to being misplaced or accidentally discarded. Exposure to excessive heat can warp or damage the acrylic baseplate of the retainer. Also, esthetically, these retainers keep teeth in place with a wire bow that runs in front of the teeth, so the retainer is noticeable when worn.
Vacuum Formed Retainers
Vacuum formed retainers are clear plastic trays that fit over the teeth to maintain their position. The trays are removable so they offer similar advantages to removable wire retainers— they are easier to clean, and can be removed so they don’t interfere with eating. Vacuum formed retainers then have a few additional benefits. Their clear plastic means they are nearly invisible when worn (much like Invisalign). Vacuum formed retainers also completely cover the teeth so they can serve as night guards to help protect enamel for patients who may grind their teeth, or as whitening trays for patients who wish to bleach their teeth after orthodontic treatment.
Bonded or fixed retainers are attached to the teeth and cannot be removed without an orthodontist. In general, bonded retainers are used in patients where teeth have undergone a great deal of movement and adjustment. Bonded retainers are usually placed on the backside of the teeth and consist of a wire, which acts passively as a stabilizer for the teeth. Bonded retainers usually span just the front teeth, so they are often the least noticeable type of retainer to the patient. Because fixed retainers are hidden from view and bonded in place, they make a good solution for those who need long-term or permanent retainer care.
Bonded retainers keep your teeth straight by being in your mouth 24 hours a day. They eliminate some of the common problems of removable retainers— they cannot be lost or accidentally thrown away. However, bonded retainers need to be specially cleaned, much like wire braces, as they create hard to access areas on the teeth.
Keeping retainers clean and maintained is a part of dental health and proper retainer use.
Removable retainers can harbor bacteria or tartar if not upkept properly. When removed briefly, it is best to rinse the retainers under water and keep them in a special case.
When retainers are removed for several hours, they should be gently cleaned with a toothbrush or cloth. The retainer should be kept in a designated case. Denture cleaning tablets or a small amount of soap or vinegar can be added to a cup of water to help keep a retainer fresh. Retainers should never be boiled, or subjected to harsh cleaning substances, like bleach or alcohol.
Bonded retainers require careful cleaning of the entire mouth, including hard-to-reach areas around the retainer wire. Flossing between teeth requires a floss threader to access areas blocked by the adhered retainer wire. Teeth should be cleaned frequently and thoroughly, especially after any meals or sweet foods.
At Fox Kids Dentistry & Orthodontics in Portland, we’re here to help make beautiful smiles and give kids the start they’ll need to have great teeth their whole life. If you’ve got more questions about our orthodontic services, give us a call or set up an appointment today!