Why Do I Need To Wear A Retainer?

Completing treatment is exciting, and witnessing your joy over your new smile is one of our favorite things at Alba Orthodontics. We know you’re ready to run from our office and take selfies showing off your smile; you’ve probably prepared to have a feast that includes all the food you craved during treatment. But before we can send you on your way, there is one more thing we have to do first. We’ve got to set you up with a retainer!

Now, we know you might have been hoping we would forget this part, but this is an essential part of your treatment process! It can be hard to get excited about wearing a retainer, especially after the built-up anticipation of finishing treatment. To help you become excited about it, we thought we’d tell you a little more about retainers and what they do!

Active Treatment Vs. Retention

Before diving into retainers, let’s first talk about two orthodontic phases — active treatment and retention.

Active treatment is when your teeth and jaw are actively undergoing orthodontic work, so wearing braces or clear aligners is considered active treatment. Your orthodontic appliance applies gentle pressure to the teeth to move them. This pressure softens the ligaments and bones that connect the teeth to the jaw to permit teeth movement. The bone surrounding teeth will also participate in remodeling, which is the process of breaking down and rebuilding bone for teeth movement and stabilization. Once you and Dr. Fred Alba or Dr. Jeff Alba are satisfied with the new positions of your teeth and jaw, active treatment will conclude, and your appliances will be removed to prevent further progression.

When active treatment ends and you no longer need your orthodontic appliances, you will enter the retention phase immediately. Retention is the process of preserving your teeth’s new alignment.

What is a retainer, and why are they necessary?

Unfortunately, your bones and ligaments don’t automatically resolidify when active treatment concludes. Because teeth have unforgettable location memories, they will try to take advantage of the unstable conditions in your mouth to return to their original positions.

That’s where your retainer comes in! Your retainer is an orthodontic appliance meant to retain (hold) teeth in their positions while the mouth stabilizes. Retainers don’t apply pressure to the teeth; they restrict the space they have to move as your bones and ligaments rebuild and harden. 

Retainers can be removable or fixed (glued) behind the teeth. Removable retainers, like the traditional Hawley or increasingly popular Essix styles, offer patients flexibility in oral hygiene and lifestyle. With no orthodontic equipment in the way, brushing and flossing is a breeze, and there are few to no food restrictions. Fixed retainers, on the other hand, cannot be removed for oral hygiene or eating. Only an orthodontist can remove them. Patients with fixed retainers might have food restrictions and need to alter their oral hygiene routine, but you don’t have to remember to wear them. 

Every style comes with its pros and cons, but don’t worry! Dr. Fred Alba or Dr. Jeff Alba will discuss them with you and help you pick the best one.

Is it really so bad if patients don’t wear their retainers?

Yes — especially during those first few months of retention! Remember when we said teeth would take advantage of their newfound freedom to return “home”? We meant it! Neglecting or forgetting to wear your retainer as prescribed allows your teeth to move. If your teeth regress — or shift backward — enough, we might recommend you restart active treatment! We know you put in a lot of hard work to get your new smile, and not wearing your retainer can make it all be for naught!

How long do patients wear retainers?

If you receive a fixed retainer, you should speak to Dr. Alba about its longevity and how long you will need it.

For removable retainers*, you will likely need to wear them twenty-four hours, seven days a week, for the first few months (except for retainer maintenance, eating, drinking, and performing oral hygiene). Over time, we will slowly reduce that time until you only need it for a couple of nights a week. The time you need to wear your retainer every week will never be zero, though. Teeth can move at any time for any reason! You will likely need your retainer for the rest of your life. The good news is that they are built to last if adequately cared for!

*It’s important to note that individual needs may vary. Dr. Fred Alba or Dr. Jeff Alba could provide you with different instructions or expectations.

Alba Orthodontics Has The Answers You Need For A Successful Retention Period!

Adjusting from active treatment to retention can be frustrating, but Alba Orthodontics takes pride in making it as pleasant and easy as possible! We have all the experience and information necessary to give you quality care and answer all your questions.

Alba Orthodontics can help you create the smile of your dreams and maintain it for years. To learn more about our retention treatment options, contact us to book an appointment. If you are a first-time patient, schedule your free consultation with us to determine which treatment option is right for you!

We can’t wait to transform your smile, so see us soon!