The day everyone with braces awaits – the day the braces come off!

Life after braces is a great thing. You can enjoy things that were difficult during treatment (like corn on the cob and chewing gum), you don’t have to fuss with rubber bands and cleaning in between the wires and brackets, and, best of all, you can show off your new smile.

Just because the braces come off, however, that doesn’t mean treatment is over. Teeth have a good memory and if left alone, they can drift back to their original spots, undoing the progress you’ve made over treatment. This is called post-treatment relapse. It needs to be addressed in life after braces. We do that with retainers.


Your orthodontist will most likely want you to wear a retainer after the braces come off. It is crucial, when living life after braces, to follow their instructions on how long and how often to wear your retainer, because being lax with retainers can allow the teeth to move. The longer you wear your retainer, the higher the chance that your teeth will stay in place. It’s that simple.

There are two types of retainers, removable and fixed, each with their pros and cons. Your orthodontist will make a recommendation on which is best for you based on your circumstances and their experience. You may have one or the other, or you may use both.

Removable retainers

These retainers can be taken out by the patient. They are typically made of acrylic and wire (the “classic” retainer) or clear plastic.

With today’s technology, we don’t have to take a plaster cast of the patient’s teeth and then wait a week or two for an outside lab to create it. Instead, we can use 3D scanners and printers to design and create plastic retainers in-house. This is not only very cool, but it allows us to give the patient their retainer in the same appointment as braces removal. This saves an extra appointment and lets the patient start wearing the retainer sooner.

PROS: Removable retainers can be taken out by the patient for eating, brushing, flossing, and cleaning.

CONS: Removable retainers can easily be lost, discarded accidentally, or eaten by the family dog (this happens more often than you’d think). They can be destroyed if not handled properly and may degrade with rigorous cleaning. Clear retainers are not ideal for people who grind their teeth, as the grinding causes damage.

The biggest con of all: It only works when it’s in your mouth. If you don’t adhere to the orthodontist’s treatment plan and wear it for the number of hours in the day recommended, it won’t be completely effective.

Fixed retainers

These retainers cannot be taken out by the patient. They are wires bonded to the back of two, four, or six teeth to keep them in place. They usually last a very long time but they can break (that is, the bond between the wire and the tooth can fail), in which case a trip to the orthodontist or dentist is required ASAP to prevent teeth from moving.

PROS: Fixed retainers work 24/7/365; since there’s no option of removing them, they are very effective at keeping the teeth in place. Also, because they are bonded to the back of the teeth, they are completely hidden.

CONS: It can be time-consuming to floss with fixed retainers, as the wire is typically bonded to the back of each tooth, requiring the use of a floss threader to properly floss all the teeth. Also, it’s smart to be careful about foods you eat; crunch and sticky foods can lead to the fixed retainer breaking off.

Cause for Celebration

 At my practice, we have a big celebration for patients when the braces come off. The staff and patient’s family members gather around and sing a celebration song, we present some candy or other food that was off-limits during treatment plus a certificate marking the occasion, and we finish it off with cheers as the patient leaves the office. It’s a fun way to celebrate with the patient as they start a new chapter in their lives.

Though it’s a big day, it’s not the end of treatment. Remember that braces got you that beautiful smile, but it’s up to you (and your retainers) to make sure it stays that way!