Definition & Overview

Retainers are orthodontic devices that are used to maintain teeth alignment. Orthodontists use braces to align crooked or misaligned teeth. Once the desired alignment has been achieved, the orthodontist will replace the braces with retainers to prevent teeth from moving out of alignment.

It takes months, or even years to achieve the desired alignment using braces. Unfortunately, teeth have a tendency to move even when they've been aligned, especially if there are gaps between them. The gums and jawbone need time to adjust to the new position of the teeth and this could take months. Retainers will prevent the teeth from moving out of alignment until the jawbone has adjusted.

Retainers come in different forms and are made from a variety of materials. The most common are wires that are attached to the front teeth, also known as "fixed" retainers. Some retainers are removable, but they need to be worn for a minimum number of hours within a 24-hour period.

Retainers, regardless of type, effectively ensure that teeth stay in their new position, which would indicate that there is no single "best" type. However, some people may consider a certain type more comfortable. Your orthodontist will recommend the type of retainer that would best suit your needs.

Who should undergo and expected results

Retainers are needed once crooked teeth have been aligned using braces. If you've been wearing braces for quite some time and your teeth have finally been aligned, the next step is to remove the braces. However, at this point, the jawbone and soft tissue would likely not be capable of holding them in place just yet so retainers will be used.

The first few months after the braces have been removed are when teeth are most likely to revert to their old position. To prevent this from happening, your dentist will recommend the use of retainers. Otherwise, there's a good chance of you having to wear braces again.

Exactly how much time you'll need to wear the retainer will be up to your dentist. Usually, it's the same amount of time you wore braces, but it can be longer. In fact, some people may need to wear the retainers for the rest of their lives.

How the procedure works

Retainers are customized according to the shape and form of your teeth. Fixed retainers are cemented to the back of the teeth. Unlike most types of braces, they won't be visible so you'll be able to flash that perfect smile. However, you might need some time getting used to them. They usually aren't painful, but you could be producing more saliva until you've gotten accustomed to wearing them.

Removable retainers are made from a combination of plastic and wires or clear plastic. These also need to be customized according to your needs. Removable retainers usually need to be worn full-time for the first 3 to 6 months. After that, you'll only need to wear them at night. Your orthodontist will inform you of the exact schedule.

Possible risks and complications

Since a retainer only prevents teeth from shifting back to their original positions, it usually doesn't cause any complications as long as it is fixed to the teeth properly. If the retainer is causing pain, it should be brought back to the orthodontist so that it can be adjusted or fixed. If not, there is a possibility that it may cause dental problems, such as an infection.

By the time the dentist attaches a retainer to your teeth, you would probably have been accustomed to a cleaning regimen because of the braces. This won't change while you're still using retainers. Retainers should be cleaned on a regular basis to prevent food from being stuck and causing problems.

You'll also need to remember that plaque can easily form between the retainer and the teeth. It may be difficult to clean that area, but the task should become easier if you use dental floss that has been specially designed for retainers.

Retainers are not fixed permanently to the teeth; they are only cemented in place. There is a possibility that the retainer might become loose. If so, you'll need to have it checked by the dentist and repaired as soon as possible. There is also a chance that the wire might break. If this happens, the retainer would need to be replaced.

Recent studies have also shown that metal retainers may interact with radio signals, such as Wifi or mobile phones, causing serious side effects, such as mental derangement, poisoning, or even death. The symptoms may be instantaneous or could develop over time. It's important to let your orthodontist know if you're experiencing symptoms, such as headaches, nausea, vomiting, sore throat, pain, dizziness, or a general feeling of weakness.

Some people may have a hypersensitivity to different types of metals. So, it's best if you have the retainer made from the same metal as the braces you've been accustomed to.


  • American Dental Association
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