Orthodontics can totally transform your smile, but what’s the use in investing if your teeth eventually move back to where they were before? The most important aspect of your treatment is maintaining a straight, healthy smile after your braces are off. Just as we were able to move your teeth in the first place, they can move back on their own. In this article I’m going to share with you what you can expect regarding smile retention after you’ve completed your orthodontic treatment.

Why Would My Teeth Move? Your teeth are surrounded by living tissue, and the fibers in these tissues are stretched to allow us to straighten your smile. Once your teeth are not being held in place by braces, these fibers might tighten up, moving your teeth with them.

In addition, the lips, cheeks, and tongue can have an effect on your smile. These are all forces that are in contact with your newly straightened teeth. They can cause your teeth to move outward or inward depending on where the force is coming from.

How Long Will I Wear my Retainer? Some patients are surprised to find out that they should expect to wear their retainer for a lifetime. Directly following orthodontic treatment, your teeth will remain slightly mobile for a few weeks. During this time, you can expect to wear your retainer both during the day and at night.

After anywhere from three weeks to three months, your doctor will tell you that you can just wear your retainer at night, and you’ll continue to do this for as long as you want to keep your teeth straight. This is why I call retainers “tooth pajamas.” Whenever you put your pajamas on, you put on your tooth pajamas, too!

What Different Types of Retainers are There? There are two types of retainers﹘ removable and fixed. Some doctors use mostly one or the other, but I look at each patient’s unique needs when deciding what type would be best for them.

A removable retainer is usually worn just at night (as we discussed) and can be taken out during the day and to be cleaned. This type of retainer is either made from acrylic and wire or clear plastic.

  • Acrylic-and-wire retainers are made from a mold of a patient’s palate and have wires that hold it in place around the teeth. These types of retainers are very durable and can last for years if cared for properly, but they only fit on the top row of teeth.
  • Clear plastic retainers are less visible than acrylic-and-wire retainers. They are molded to fit perfectly over all of the teeth, leaving the palette unobstructed. This type of retainer can work on both the upper and lower teeth. Plastic retainers are more easily lost or broken than their acrylic-and-wire counterparts.

Fixed retainers usually involve adhering a small wire to the back of the six front teeth. That means that when you smile, you can’t see it at all! Like braces, fixed retainers make some foods off limits.

Overly crunchy or sticky foods can break off the bonds. If a fixed retainer does happen to break, it’s important to see your orthodontist as soon as possible, as teeth can shift very quickly. Also, flossing with a fixed retainer requires a little extra care. Patients will have to use floss threaders (just like with braces) to clean between those teeth.

The longer you wear your retainer, the more likely it is that your teeth will stay where we moved them. It’s up to you to maintain your beautiful, straight smile!