Once you’ve finished up the hardest part of your orthodontic treatment and are finally free from braces or clear aligners, you deserve to celebrate all the results of your hard work and dedication – a beautifully aligned, healthy, and fully functional smile. It can be tempting to think you’re through with brackets, wires, or aligners forever, but before you get too carried away, remember that you’ve got one more step to go – retainers! Braces or aligners are only the first steps in the orthodontic treatment process. The second step begins once your teeth have been straightened, and it may surprise you to learn that it’s every bit as important as the first is when it comes to maintaining your new smile.

The importance of retainers

If you’ve been a patient with us here at Craig & Streight for any length of time, you’ve undoubtedly heard us talk about the importance of retainers on more than one occasion. Retainers play an essential role in rounding out the treatment process, and the second phase revolves around using them regularly. Our teeth have a natural tendency to drift back towards their original positions after they’ve been straightened, a phenomenon known as “relapse.” Wearing your retainer as directed by Dr. Craig or Dr. Streight is the key to preventing this kind of drifting, keeping your teeth in their new and improved positions.

When your braces or clear aligner treatment is complete, your teeth are not the only things we want to stay in place. To understand why retainers are so crucial for long-term success, it helps to know more about the teeth and how orthodontics work to move them. Teeth aren’t just fixtures in the jaw. Each one is held in its socket by elastic ligaments attaching the roots to the bone. These ligaments are living tissue affected by the movement of the teeth, and it is this attachment that allows for the small movements of the teeth during treatment.

When tension is placed in and around the teeth through braces, new ligaments, and sometimes even bone, are formed. The first phase of treatment is also known as the remodeling phase, and once it is complete, those tissues, ligaments, and bone will need some time to stabilize. Left to their own devices, the teeth will almost always migrate back to their old positions. Patients who don’t follow through with wearing their retainer properly may eventually find their teeth shifting back to their old positions, undoing almost every step of their orthodontic treatment.

Fortunately, this kind of relapse is easily avoidable. Keeping your newly straightened smile in place requires nothing more than wearing your retainer as directed! But first, you’ll need to know if a permanent or removable retainer will work best for you. While our doctors will look at the specifics of your case before recommending any particular retainer for you, it’s good to know the different types available, and how they work to keep your teeth right where they’re supposed to be.

Comparing a retainer to an Invisalign aligner

The different types of retainers

Fixed retainers

A fixed retainer consists of a thin wire that is positioned across the interior surface of the lower or upper front teeth, then bonded or glued into place. Since this wire stretches across several teeth, your oral hygiene routine will require about as much care as a braces patient, particularly when it comes to flossing. These can be a particularly helpful option for patients who have had a large gap between the two upper front teeth. Once braces or aligners close that space, a fixed retainer can be used to keep its space closed. Even though this type of retainer may take a little more work to keep clean, it often has the best overall outcome due to the bonded wire holding the newly straightened teeth in a more ideal alignment over a long period of time. And you never have to remember to wear it!

Removable Retainers

When it comes to removable retainers, there are a couple of options available. One is made of a wire and acrylic material (the Hawley retainer) and the other is composed of a clear plastic material similar to a clear aligner (the Essix retainer.) Both are custom-made to fit your mouth following orthodontic treatment.

Hawley retainers

This appliance is one of the oldest retainers, and the one most people recognize due to its popularity through the years. These retainers are made of stainless steel, and kept in place by a wire wrapping around your teeth that combines with an acrylic arch resting 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 currently moving away from this more traditional retainer, it can still be useful in some cases. Hawley retainers can be a bit fragile, so it’s important to take good care of it if you are given one to use.

Essix retainers

Essix retainers are made entirely of a transparent plastic material and look very similar to the clear aligners used with a system like Invisalign, making them much less noticeable than traditional wire retainers. Each one is molded to the unique shape of your mouth, and should last as long as you need it as long as you care for it properly.

Cleaning your teeth is incredibly easy with either removable retainer, but you do have to remember to wear them as directed. They are also a lot easier to misplace or damage, so be careful with them, and mindful of where they are at all times.

In some special situations, it may be necessary for us to use both permanent and removable retainers together to ensure no relapses occur, but this is something we will discuss with you if it ends up being applicable to your case.

Young blonde lady with Invisalign

Let Craig & Streight Orthodontics keep your smile straight

At Craig & Streight Orthodontics, you’re more than just a patient, you’re family. Our doctors are dedicated to finding the right orthodontic treatment for you, your smile, and your lifestyle, including the right type of retainer! If you’re finishing up your braces or clear aligner treatment and want more information on why retainers are essential going forward, get in touch with us any time. Our team is always happy to answer any questions you have, discuss any concerns, or simply offer advice or encouragement. With offices in Norman, Mustang, and South OKC, and a skilled staff providing the highest quality orthodontic care, your smile is in the very best hands with us, before, during, and following your treatment!