While retainers are often viewed as a nuisance, they’re crucial to protect the gains made with bite correction. Without them, all of the progress achieved through braces or clear aligners could be lost.
Here’s why: The same elastic gum tissue called the periodontal ligament that holds teeth in place also allows them to move incrementally in response to changes in the mouth. That’s why we can move teeth with braces or aligners, which put pressure on the teeth toward a desired direction of movement while the periodontal ligament does the rest.
But the mechanics can also work in reverse: With pressure relieved when the braces are removed, the teeth could revert to their original positions through a kind of “muscle memory.” The light pressure provided by a retainer is enough to keep or “retain” teeth in their new positions.
The best known retainer is a removable appliance. Initially, a patient wears it continuously and only takes it out during oral hygiene. Wear duration may later be reduced to night time only and eventually not at all, depending on a patient’s individual needs.
While effective, removable retainers do have some downsides. Like braces, they’re visible to others. And because they’re removable, they’re frequently misplaced or lost, leading to the added expense of a new one.
An alternative is a bonded retainer, a thin piece of wire attached to the back of the newly moved teeth to keep them in place. Because it’s behind the teeth it’s not visible—and there’s no misplacing it because only a dentist can take it out.
A bonded retainer is a good option, especially if a patient is immature and not as diligent about wearing or keeping up with their appliance. But it can make flossing difficult to perform, and if they’re removed or broken prematurely, the teeth could revert to their former positions.
If you decide to go with a bonded retainer, be sure you get some tips from your dental hygienist on how to floss with it. And if you decide later to have it removed early, be sure to replace it with a removable retainer. Either of these two options can help you keep your new and improved smile.
If you would like more information on bonded 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 “Bonded Retainers.”