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Permanent vs. Removable Retainers

Here at Swan Orthodontics, we know all the hard work and dedication you put into successfully completing your orthodontic treatment. When it’s time for you to finally be free from your braces or clear aligners, you deserve to celebrate the beautiful results! When we reveal your newly aligned, fully functional smile, it can be tempting to think you’re through with orthodontics forever, but in reality, you’ve got one more step to go. Braces and aligners are only the first phase in the orthodontic treatment process. The second phase begins once your teeth have been straightened, and it’s just as important as the first is when it comes to maintaining your new smile for a lifetime.

Why retainers are so important

If you’ve been a patient with Swan Orthodontics, you’ve likely heard us expound on the importance of retainers frequently. That’s because retainers play an essential role in rounding out the overall orthodontic process, and the second phase of treatment revolves around using them regularly. As we get older, our teeth have a natural tendency to drift back towards their original positions. This can happen even after they have been straightened with braces or aligners, and is part of a phenomenon known as “relapse.” In order to keep your teeth in their new and improved positions, wearing your retainer exactly as directed by Dr. Swan is key.

To understand why retainers are so crucial for the long-term success of your smile, it helps to know more about the teeth and how orthodontics work to move them. Your teeth aren’t the only things we want to stay in place once treatment is complete. Teeth aren’t just solid fixtures in the jaw, each one is held in its socket by elastic ligaments that attach the roots to the bone. These ligaments are living tissue that are affected by the movement of the teeth. It is this particular attachment that allows for the small movements of the teeth during treatment.

When tension is placed in and around the teeth through braces, new ligaments, and sometimes even bone, are formed. The first phase of treatment is also known as the remodeling phase, and once it is complete, those same tissues, ligaments, and bone will need time to stabilize. When left to their own devices, the teeth will almost always migrate back to their previous positions. Patients who don’t follow through with wearing their retainer properly often find their teeth shifting back to their old positions after some time has passed, undoing almost every step of their orthodontic treatment along the way.

Fortunately, it’s easy to avoid this kind of relapse! Keeping your newly straightened smile in place requires nothing more than wearing your retainer as Dr. Swan has instructed you to. The first step to this second phase of treatment is determining what type of retainer will work best for you. Dr. Swan will always look at the specifics of your case before recommending any particular retainer for you, but it’s good to know the different types available and how they can benefit your smile.

Comparing a retainer to an Invisalign aligner

The different types of retainers

Fixed retainers

A fixed retainer will generally consist of a thin wire that has been positioned across the interior surface of the lower or upper front teeth, then bonded or glued into place. Since this wire stretches across several teeth, your oral hygiene routine will be similar to that of a braces patient, particularly when it comes to flossing.

Fixed retainers can be particularly helpful for patients who have had a large gap between the two upper front teeth. After braces or aligners close that space, a fixed retainer can be used to keep it closed. Although this type of retainer may take a little more work to keep clean, it often has the best outcome overall. This is because the bonded wire is capable of holding the newly straightened teeth in a more ideal alignment over a long period of time. Bonus: you never have to remember to wear it!

Removable retainers

There are a couple of different options available when it comes to removable retainers. The Hawley retainers is made of a wire and acrylic material, and the Essix retainer is composed of a clear plastic material that is similar to a clear aligner. Both of these will be custom-made to fit your mouth following orthodontic treatment.

Hawley retainers

This is one of the oldest retainers, and the one that is most recognizable. Made of stainless steel, these retainers are kept in place by wrapping a wire around your teeth and combining that with an acrylic arch that rests against the roof of your mouth. The metal wires can be adjusted to continue minor movement of the front teeth if needed. Many orthodontists are currently moving away from this more traditional retainer, but it can still be useful in some cases. Hawley retainers can be a bit more fragile than other retainers, so it’s important to take good care of it if you are given one to use.

Essix retainers

Essix retainers are essentially customized trays made of a transparent plastic material. They look very similar to the clear aligners used with a system like Invisalign, and are much less noticeable than traditional wire retainers. Each one is molded to the unique shape of your mouth, and as long as you care for it properly, it should last as long as you need it.

Maintaining an excellent oral hygiene routine is incredibly easy with either removable retainer, but you will have to remember to wear them as directed to avoid relapse. They are also a lot easier to misplace or damage, so be mindful of where they are at all times and be careful when you handle them.

In some special cases, it may be necessary for us to use both permanent and removable retainers together to ensure no relapses occur. This is something we will discuss with you at the time if it ends up being applicable.

Swan staff working with a patient

Keep your smile straight with retainers from Swan Orthodontics

Here at Swan Orthodontics, it’s our mission to create beautiful smiles for patients of all ages in our community. When you trust your smile to our talented team, you’re getting our expertise, enthusiasm, and highest-quality orthodontic care in return. We know the impact a beautifully aligned, healthy smile can have on your self-confidence and self-esteem, and how that can spill over into a better quality of life overall. We want to help you maintain that smile, and part of that is helping you find the right type of retainer!

If you’re finishing up your braces or clear aligner treatment soon, and want more information on why retainers are so essential going forward, get in touch with our Caledonia office any time. Our skilled staff is always happy to answer any questions you have, discuss any concerns you have about your treatment, or simply offer a word of advice or encouragement. You can count on us to keep your smile straight and your mouth healthy before, during, and following your orthodontic treatment process.