At the completion of comprehensive orthodontic treatment retainers are fitted to hold the teeth in the new positions. This is a very important part of the whole orthodontic treatment process as the bone and gums surrounding the teeth take many months to adapt and remodel after active braces or aligner treatment has finished.
There are various different types and designs of retainers. The type of retainer prescribed for each patient relates to many factors, most notably the type and severity of the initial orthodontic problem and the type of treatment provided. The three main types of retainers are clear acrylic wraparound retainers (Trutain or Essix Retainers), plastic/wire removable plates (Hawley Retainers) or permanent wires that are fixed to the teeth. Fixed wire or “bonded” retainers are secured to the inside surfaces of the front teeth and are designed to be kept in place indefinitely.
Removable retainers are usually worn full-time (day and night) for 4-6 months then nights only for 12 months and then for one or two nights a week indefinitely (or until fixed retainers are fitted).
Successfully completed orthodontic treatment does not automatically ensure a lifetime of perfectly straight teeth. Retainers play a critical role in long-term orthodontic treatment success but if they are not worn according to instructions, the teeth will begin to move back towards their original positions.
Over a lifetime, dental alignment and bite changes will occur even if you have never had orthodontic treatment. Even people with naturally straight teeth will notice their front teeth becoming slightly crooked with age. These lifetime changes are therefore unrelated to any previous treatment and are due to natural ageing processes and residual growth. Developing wisdom teeth may also play a small role in these long-term dental changes. Therefore ex-orthodontic patients who choose to discontinue wearing retainers altogether must expect these same changes to occur to their teeth over time.
Only lifetime retainer wear ensures a lifetime of perfectly straight teeth.