Teeth retainers are removable dental devices that fit over a person’s upper or lower teeth. They keep someone’s teeth in their correct alignment, often as a follow-up to braces.

After teeth straightening treatments, such as braces, a person’s teeth need to be kept in place. A dentist or orthodontist may suggest wearing a retainer to achieve this.

Teeth retainers play an essential role in keeping teeth straight and healthy long term. They maintain the position of teeth after orthodontic treatment and allow the bone holding the person’s teeth in place to heal.

Read on to learn more about why people use retainers, how to use them, and how to care for them.

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A retainer is a custom dental device that is molded to the shape of a person’s mouth. Orthodontists prescribe retainers following dental treatments that move a person’s teeth, such as braces.

Without using a retainer, a person’s teeth can shift back to their previous alignment.

An orthodontist may prescribe one of the following types of retainers:

  • Permanent retainers: These are bonded to the teeth, so an individual cannot remove them. People may prefer these retainers because they are unnoticeable, but they may be uncomfortable.
  • Hawley retainers: These retainers are made of wire attached to plastic (or acrylic) that is molded to a person’s mouth. Because they are removable, they are convenient and easy to clean.
  • Clear retainers: These are custom retainers made using an exact replica of the person’s teeth. They are virtually invisible, making them a popular choice.

People who have had their teeth aligned with braces use retainers. They are typically the final phase of orthodontic teeth straightening procedures and ensure that teeth stay in their new position.

Although some people may believe that orthodontic work is complete when braces come off, wearing retainers for the prescribed amount of time is essential. Not following the guidance of one’s dentist or orthodontist could undo the work of their braces.

Once a person has a retainer, they will regularly return to their orthodontist for checkups. The orthodontist will make any necessary adjustments, such as bending or trimming wires for comfort.

The length of time a person wears a retainer for depends on their specific course of treatment.

Sometimes, an orthodontist will attach a permanent retainer to a person’s teeth. They may leave this in place indefinitely, or they may replace it with a removable retainer after a period of time.

Alternatively, they may decide to give a person a removable retainer. According to the Canadian Association of Orthodontists, they may suggest that an individual wears that removable retainer almost 24 hours per day for the first 4–6 months.

However, many orthodontists recommend that people wear their removable retainer at all times for at least 9 months, according to one 2010 survey.

Following the initial period of constant wear, a person may use their retainer only at night.

A person’s dentist or orthodontist will tell them how long to wear their retainer for. This will likely be for 12 months or longer.

It is important to always follow the advice of one’s dentist or orthodontist. If a person has any problems with their retainer, they should contact them right away.

People should take the following precautions to ensure effective use of their retainers:

  • Wear the retainers as the orthodontist directs.
  • Do not chew gum while wearing the retainers, and do not chew on the retainers.
  • Be careful while removing the retainers from the mouth. Use both index fingers at the gumline to do so.
  • Keep the retainers in their specific case.
  • Consult a dentist or orthodontist if the retainers become uncomfortable.

Keeping retainers clean is important for overall oral health. A person should ask a dentist or orthodontist for cleaning instructions specific to their retainers.

Cleaning instructions may differ depending on the type of retainer a person has. For example, cleaning instructions for removable retainers may include thoroughly brushing the retainer with a toothbrush and toothpaste before and after use.

However, cleaning a permanent retainer may be more difficult. People with bonded retainers should brush them as part of their usual dental hygiene routine, and they may want to use floss threaders to make flossing easier.

Correct cleaning reduces the risk of gingivitis and cavities.

Get eight tips for cleaning a retainer here.

There are a variety of orthodontic treatments available. Each addresses a person’s individual orthodontic needs and preferences.

After an orthodontist has assessed someone’s teeth, the first step typically involves defining their problems and analyzing how their teeth could change over time. The orthodontist may take X-rays, create plaster models, and take photographs of the person’s teeth. This allows them to create a custom treatment plan.

Some treatments use devices that correct the position of a person’s teeth. These may include:

  • Fixed braces: With these, an orthodontist glues a bracket to the front of each tooth and links them with wire.
  • Removable braces: These may suit minor alignment corrections.
  • Functional appliances: These are plastic braces that fit around the upper and lower teeth. They are either joined or designed to work in conjunction.

A person may also need to use headgear in addition to their other orthodontic devices as part of their treatment plan. They typically wear this headgear at night.

Teeth retainers play an essential role in keeping a person’s teeth permanently in place after orthodontic treatment. Retainers are available in fixed or removable versions, and people often use them after braces.

Typically, people wear their retainers full time for 4–6 months. Also, most dentists recommend wearing retainers at least every night for the rest of one’s life. This prevents teeth from shifting back out of position. However, each treatment plan is unique, so people should always refer to the guidance of their dentist or orthodontist.

Keeping the retainer clean is essential for maintaining oral health. If an individual has any issues with their retainer, or if they lose or damage it, they should contact an orthodontist as soon as possible.