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Keeping Teeth Straight After Braces

It’s here – the big day you or your child have been waiting for.  It’s on your calendar: BRACES OFF!

Many people make plans to celebrate or do something special to mark the occasion of the day you get your braces off.

You come in to the office for your debonding appointment. And like magic, your teeth are perfectly smooth.  And perfect!   You look at them in the mirror like old friends.  It’s been a long while since you’ve seen each other.

You worked hard to get to where you are, and the reward is spectacular!  Gorgeous, perfectly aligned teeth that has changed everything – how you look, your self-confidence, and of course a lifetime to enjoy your new, healthiest smile.

And then, it happens.  In the middle of all of this excitement, your orthodontist throws a wet blanket on your celebrations.  He or she wants to talk to you about: retention.  Retainers?  You JUST got your braces off.  This very minute!  And here we go with the talk about retainers, and keeping teeth straight, and ruin your perfectly happy moment.

Why Do I Need a Retainer?

Just because you get your braces off doesn’t mean your teeth are done moving.  The bone remodeling process that has transformed your teeth into the gorgeous smile you have today took time to get started, and will take time to stop.  The pressure from your archwire or aligner trays sent a message to the bone and connective tissue around your teeth to loosen up for a bit, shift, and then rebuild the bone around the teeth in their new positions.  That process happened in tiny increments, in a slow, constant process.  Removing the pressure of the aligner trays or the archwire does not immediately stop teeth movement.  That’s why retainers and the commitment to wear them is so important to making sure you can enjoy your hard work and beautiful results for life.

How Do Retainers Work?

Retainers help to put the brakes on teeth movement, and prevent shifting.  Teeth naturally want to shift in little increments over time.  Retainers send tiny signals to the roots of your teeth to tell them to stay in place, and to keep your teeth properly aligned.  Some retainers are fixed (cemented) into place behind your teeth.  Other types include the Hawley, which is the most common.  The Hawley retainer is made of a metal guide wire and acrylic that is fitted to your mouth.  Both the Hawley and clear retainer trays are removable. What’s most important, however, is that retainers only work if you actually wear them.

How Long Do I Have to Wear Retainers For?

The first 6 months after active orthodontic treatment are especially critical because your teeth are still actively trying to move.  Most orthodontic patients need to wear their retainers for 6 months full time after completing active braces or invisalign treatment, and then the removable retainers at night, for life.

Yes, for life.

Your teeth are incredibly strong, but teeth naturally shift, and the best way – really, the only way – to keep your teeth looking as good in 20 years as they do today, is to wear your retainers.  Remember, the “forever” part is only at night.  During the day, you’ll walk around with your perfect teeth, and no one else will be the wiser – a little like a superhero.  It’s OK, your secret is safe with us.