All about orthodontic retainers

Orthodontic braces are used, of course, to straighten teeth by gradually moving them into their correct position. After the orthodontist removes the braces, they want to make sure that the teeth do not drift back to their old positions. They will therefore have their patient wear a retainer. Oftentimes, patients ask, “Is orthodontic retention really needed?” The answer is a resounding yes!

You have made it to the end with your orthodontic treatment and you finally have that amazing smile that you always wanted. When you look in the mirror, you still can’t believe that is you with beautifully aligned teeth that have shifted into the proper position. Orthodontic correction has made such a difference in your life. You have more confidence than you ever did before. You have a reason to smile because you can’t wait to flash your pearly whites. It has been a long journey, but it has been worth every step of the way. The final phase of your treatment has arrived. You need to get ready for orthodontic retention.

What is a retainer?

A retainer is an orthodontic appliance designed to hold teeth in position after they have been realigned. It is often used after orthodontic treatment or surgery. They are most commonly used before and after braces.

Types of retainers

There are a few different types available, each uniquely designed to focus on different areas of treatment. Each design has a unique set of characteristics that provides focused treatment based on your individual situation.

The bonded or fixed retainer is now the most common type. It is simply a wire glued to the back of the patient’s teeth. Unlike other retainers, the patient can’t remove it. Orthodontists generally recommend fixed retainers for patients whose orthodontic treatments have wrought dramatic changes that are likely to come undone without further treatment. Many orthodontists leave the bonded retainer in place until after the patient’s wisdom teeth come in, which usually happens when they are in their late teens or early twenties. Some people wear their bonded retainers for life.

The Hawley retainer is probably the oldest and best-known type of retainer. Named for its inventor, Dr. Charles Hawley, it consists of plastic and wires. It is most often worn on the upper teeth, and the wire is usually designed to surround the six front teeth and keep them in place. The plastic or acrylic part sits in the roof of the patient’s mouth. Hawley retainers are removable, and the orthodontist can adjust the wire. Hawley retainers are also durable and easy to clean.

Essix or invisible retainers look a bit like Invisalign® braces, and are often used by patients who used Invisalign®. Essix retainers are made from a clear plastic and slip over the patient’s teeth. They can be designed to cover either all of the teeth or just the front teeth. The last type is sometimes called a “clip-on” retainer. Like the Hawley retainer, the Essix retainer is removable, so the patient can take it out when eating. This type of orthodontic retention offers more discretion than a traditional retainer.

Do I need a retainer?

Retainers play a crucial role in maintaining a great smile. During the treatment period when you have your braces, the braces gently guide your teeth over a period of time into a space of proper alignment. As you transition into the next phase of treatment, the goal is to make sure that the alignment remains the same.

This will ensure that the teeth are working properly together, not overcrowding, and are not causing discomfort as your mouth adjusts to the new positioning. Doing so prevents regression and keeps your progress up.

How long do people wear retainers?

The length of time varies, but most patients wear a retainer for at least a year after getting their braces removed. If the patient has a removable retainer, they will likely be told to wear it almost constantly at first. As their treatment progresses, the orthodontist will have them wear it less and less. Most people have to wear a retainer for 18 to 30 months.

Caring for your retainer

It may take some time for you to get acclimated to the new adjustments that you’ll have to make. Following the proper safekeeping techniques will make sure that your treatment continues down the right path. There are many things to keep in mind. Here is a list of proper techniques to make sure it stays in great condition:


Much like wearing braces, you must always be sure to brush your teeth after every meal. You should also floss at least once a day. While brushing your teeth, you can keep your retainer clean by brushing it as well, using a toothbrush and toothpaste. Doing so will get rid of any leftover plaque. While cleaning, make sure you are not using hot water, and never put it in the washing machine.

Proper use

The most important thing to remember is to constantly make sure that you are always wearing your retainer. Do not go any extended period of time without wearing it unless directly instructed by a doctor. Another crucial item to remember is to take it out before eating, for every meal. Once you take it out, be sure to put it back in its case and keep track of it, as it can get lost very easily. As a final point of reminder, be sure to remove your retainer if you plan on going swimming.

Getting a retainer is a very critical step in having a healthy, radiant smile. By wearing one, you will be able to maintain your teeth so that you never have to worry about braces again. Before you know it, braces will become a thing of the past.

Maintain your results with orthodontic retention

You may have thought that it was over and you no longer needed anything else. You have an incredible smile and you’re looking forward to enjoying it. However, you are going to need to follow up your treatment by wearing a retainer. Your teeth will begin to shift after your treatment is over. If you do not carry out the orthodontic retention phase, you could see your teeth slowly ease their way back into the position they used to hold. Your teeth tend to want to follow the patterns that they have always had. You need a retainer to hold them steady until the bone and muscle structure in your face completely settles, adjusting to the new arrangement of your teeth.

Be sure to follow our orthodontists’ recommendations

The most critical period to wear a retainer is immediately after your braces have been removed. This is the point when your teeth are at their most vulnerable. You don’t want to lose the results that you have worked so hard to get. Generally, you should plan on wearing your retainer day and night for the first six months. After that period, you may be able to switch to wearing your retainer at night for up to a year. Some orthodontists recommend that you extend that period longer. It really isn’t much of a price to pay if it means your teeth will remain in the position that you have achieved through orthodontic treatment.

4 ways to remember to wear your retainer

  1. Ask your sibling, parent, or roommate for a reminder. Things may tend to slip your memory, but the people who live with you may be able to help. If you ask someone you live with to remind you to wear your retainer, you both have a better chance of remembering. Sometimes accountability is all you need to thrive!
  2. Put your retainer case in an open, visible spot. When you put your retainer in its case, consistently leave it in a visible spot where you see it every day. Keeping it in this spot will prevent you from forgetting where you left it and will ensure that you see it every night. If you are required to wear your retainer during the school day, make sure that you put your retainer in its case at mealtimes and in a visible spot. It’s an easy but costly mistake to accidentally throw away or leave behind your appliance.
  3. Set up an alert on your smartphone. You may be familiar with the Reminders app on your phone. Setting a daily alert or an alarm for 30 minutes before bedtime is a great way to use technology to your benefit. There are also apps available specifically for orthodontics, like Braces Accelerator, that you can use to notify you.
  4. Keep a note or reminder on your bathroom mirror. Place a sticky note on your mirror where you brush your teeth at night. You’ll will be reminded of the next step in your nighttime dental routine each time you brush, floss, or wash your hands.

Talk to our orthodontists about the orthodontic retention stage

You have choices when it comes to orthodontic retention. You can have a removable retainer or a fixed retainer. Our orthodontists will help you choose the best retainer for you. It will be customized to fit your mouth and you can remove it while you are eating. If you have a special occasion and want to show off your teeth, you can leave your retainer out and get back with the program when your event is over. You can also leave it out during sporting events if you have a removable retainer. If not, you will want to wear a mouth guard to protect your teeth.

With an office in Oak Lawn, Petty & Bielik Orthodontics wants to help you maintain your beautiful smile after braces. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation appointment to learn more about orthodontic retention.