After months of wearing braces, the big day has arrived — they’re finally off! Your teeth have been realigned and your smile is dazzling. You’re finished with orthodontic treatment, right?
Not quite — because if you want to keep your new smile you have one more treatment phase to go — wearing a retainer. Without this phase there’s a distinct possibility you could lose all the time, effort and expense of braces because your teeth could revert to their previous position.
To understand why, we have to consider how teeth can move in the first place. Although it may seem like your teeth are rigidly fastened to the jawbone, they’re actually held in place by the periodontal ligament, a strong, elastic gum tissue that lies between the teeth and the bone. Tiny fibers from the ligament attach to the teeth on one side and to the bone in a similar manner on the other side.
When pressure is applied to the tooth as happens with braces, the bone around the side of the tooth in the direction of the force will begin to dissolve (resorb), allowing the tooth to move in that direction. New bone will then build up on the other side to stabilize the tooth. Once the pressure is removed (when we take the braces off), there’s a tendency for the teeth, bone and gums to “remember” the old position and try to revert back.
The answer is a removable mouth appliance known as a retainer. Custom-designed to fit the teeth’s new position, the retainer helps hold the teeth in place until the bone completely sets around them. In the beginning, you may need to wear the retainer around the clock and then later only at night while you sleep. While you may only need to wear it for a few months (especially if you’re an adolescent or young adult) some patients may need to wear some form of retainer indefinitely. Your orthodontist will advise you how long depending on your individual situation.
While retainers may seem like an inconvenience, they’re extremely important for keeping or “retaining” the teeth in their new and better position. Following through on this important phase of treatment will help ensure you’ll keep your new smile for a long time to come.
If you would like more information on retainers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Why Orthodontic Retainers?”