Retainers: A Full Guide

Retainers and dental correction go hand in hand. Wearing retainers is the next step in aligning your teeth after braces have done their job. Braces can only handle part of the alignment process, and once you take them off, your teeth will likely fall out of alignment again. That’s where a retainer comes in. Retainers are used to stabilize the dental correction process that the braces have managed so far. The Journal of Natural Science, Biology, and Medicine found that teeth that aligned correctly with braces tended to settle out of line if left to their own devices. To deal with this problem, orthodontists developed the use of retainers that allowed teeth to settle vertically after the braces had finished their horizontal corrections.

Types of Retainers

The American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) mentions that there are two different types of retainers, temporary and permanent. Retainers and dental correction usually go hand in hand, and depending on the severity of the situation, your orthodontist in Palm Beach Gardens will recommend one or the other. Each of the types of retainers is unique in its construction and usage. Among the different kinds of retainer available to you are:

Bonded Retainer

These are permanent retainers that don’t have a specified period for which they need to be worn. They’re made of metal wire, and while they may look uncomfortable, they are made specifically to match your mouth. The metal used in the cable is either nickel, titanium, copper, or some combination of these. Bonded retainers are also called lingual wire, or fixed retainers and were the standard as far as retainers were concerned for many years.

On the positive side, the retainer is one of the easiest ones to use. There are no set instructions for using them, you just put them into your mouth and align them properly then leave them there. Other people usually can’t see when you have them in, and they are comfortable enough to talk with them still in your mouth. They’re incredibly durable, and they will spend all their time in your mouth, making it impossible to misplace them. They are also unlikely to damage because of their constant presence within your mouth.

On the downside, they can’t be taken out, hence the reason they’re termed permanent retainers. When they’re in, it can be challenging to maintain oral hygiene and keep your teeth clean through flossing. The metal wire can be slightly invasive, and for some people, it can irritate their tongue when they first get it put in. It’s also not a completely secure method of aligning teeth since your teeth may still be able to become misaligned after all of your efforts.

Hawley Retainer

The Hawley retainer is one type of temporary retainer that was named after its inventor, Charles A. Hawley. According to the journal Nature, the Hawley retainer was introduced in 1919 as a means of creating more aesthetically pleasing retainers. They are usually constructed of acrylic or plastic with metal wire to aid the alignment process. While not as durable as bonded retainers, the Hawley retainer has a typical life of between one and twenty years.

On the positive side, the Hawley retainer is perfect for fashion-sensitive individuals, since it comes in customizable colors. The acrylic or plastic is heavily stain-resistant, meaning that it’s unlikely that there will be a reason to replace the retainers before their shelf life is up. The most significant benefit it offers is being easily removable, allowing its users to take it out before eating or cleaning their teeth. The ability to remove them also makes it a lot easier to clean the apparatus as well.

Unfortunately, the metal wires that form the Hawley retainers are noticeable at the front of teeth, making it impossible to hide the presence of the retainer. Because they are removable, there is a possibility of them being taken out and misplaced. When outside of the mouth, they are just as susceptible to being destroyed like any other object. When new patients first get their Hawley retainers, some mention that it increases the flow of their saliva, making it difficult to swallow or talk properly. Additionally, because it spends that much time in the user’s mouth, it can be rife with bacteria.

Clear Retainers

These retainers are crafted out of transparent plastic, making for the most invisible retainers that are commercially available to date. WebMD mentions that clear orthodontic aligners are better for teens and adults than kids since the retainers are developed for a tight fit. Because children’s mouths are still in the process of growing, they usually outgrow these clear retainers before too long. They’re often created out of plastic or polyurethane and typically last between half a year to a full year before they need to be changed.

Clear retainers, as mentioned above, offer a close fit to your teeth, ensuring that there’s no room for them to relapse into misalignment. They tend to be thinner and more comfortable than other retainers, making for a much more acceptable fit in everyday use. Because they’re transparent, many onlookers won’t be able to spot that you have retainers on. They don’t last as long as other retainers, but they are so easy to manufacture that multiple copies can easily be made to replace the one you’re using now. Additionally, you can take them out when you’re ready to eat or clean your teeth, making it easier to clean the mechanism as well before slipping it back into your mouth.

The quick turnover time can be a problem, however. Having to get new retainers every year is an added expense and can be a hassle to make an appointment to get done. If any significant dental work takes place on your mouth, new molds would need to be made to recast the new retainers. Because they are made out of plastic, they can be a lot easier to break or damage. Since they’re removable, they can also be misplaced. Just like the Hawley retainers, they can lead to excess saliva being produced and can have a lot of bacteria lodged on the retainer.

Proper Cleaning of Retainers

The cleaning process for retainers differs between the permanent and temporary varieties.

Temporary Retainers

The cleaning methodology here refers to both Hawley and clear retainers since they are both removable. Take care to remove the retainers while they’re still wet so that it’s easier to clean off any debris on the retainers before it hardens. You should start by brushing the retainer with lukewarm water after every meal. If you need a deeper clean, mix dish soap with the lukewarm water and use a soft toothbrush for scrubbing the retainer. Using a cotton swab allows you to get into the tight spaces and clean inside there as well. Soaking the retainer in denture cleaner might be possible, depending on the type. Consult your dentist before proceeding.

Permanent Retainers

In this case, you need to be more creative in how you clean your retainer. Grab a six-inch length of floss and use a floss threader to get it between the two lower front teeth in your mouth. Use the threader to hold one end of the floss and wrap the other end around your finger. Once you get the floss under the wire for the retainer, simply move it up and down to get all the stuff stuck there. You should have the floss going just slightly beneath the gum line. Slide the floss sideways to the next tooth you want to clean and repeat for each tooth within the retainer bracket.

Essential Points to Note for Living with a Retainer

Living with a temporary retainer is unlike anything you may have encountered before. You should make sure and take them out before eating if they’re removable. When you remove them, you should slot them into their cases because of how fragile they can be. For permanent retainers, it’s a lot easier since they can’t go anywhere. The biggest issue with them is cleaning, which should be done often to ensure proper oral hygiene. At Orthodontics by Bradford, we’ve been dealing with braces and retainers for many years. Call us for a consult today to see what we can do about getting you a great pair of retainers to go with your smile.