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The Ultimate Guide to Orthodontic Retainers

21 February 2019

Orthodontics or teeth straightening is one of our main services - both for kids and adults alike. Check out the smile gallery to see some before and after pictures.

In previous articles we have talked a lot about the different types of braces for adults. In this post, we discuss the different types of clear dental retainers.

What exactly is a dental retainer?

clear dental retainer

A dental retainer is anything that you wear after finishing your braces in order to keep your teeth straight and in the new correct position. It 'retains' the new position of your teeth.

An orthodontic professor told me when I started studying orthodontics ‘moving teeth is straight forward. It’s getting them to stay put that’s the problem’.

3 types of dental retainers

1. Essix (Clear) Retainer

A clear plastic type of retainer. This is by far the most common type, being worn at night, though immediately after taking off the braces it may need to be worn day and night for a couple of months. Being clear and light it is easy and comfortable to wear. 

These are usually made in-house in our dental laboratory, the same day the braces are removed. 

2. Hawley Retainer

These are an older, more bulky and less discreet type of retainer. They are made with thick clear plastic with a metal wire in front of the teeth. In truth, they are rarely used these days because they usually end up sitting in a drawer somewhere.

3. Fixed Wire Retainer

Often called a bonded retainer or permanent retainer these are often used as a back up with the Essix type retainer. On their own they are not considered a reliable method. 

The wire (either steel or nickel titanium) is bonded to the back of the teeth and can’t be seen. After a couple of days, you are no longer aware of the wire. 

Questions about dental retainers

Are retainers always necessary?

Woman with clear dental retainer

After moving or straightening teeth (orthodontics) they all want to move back (called relapse) if not retained. Everyone knows someone who didn’t wear their retainer after braces and the teeth moved. 

In fairness in the past, patients were often not even given retainers, but now they are seen as necessary. 

So yes they are necessary, and they need to be worn correctly and treated properly.

How often do I wear retainers?

Usually every night at least initially for a year or so. When the teeth have settled (minimum of 1 year) then the retainers can be worn less often though still every few days at night.

How long do retainers last?

At 3Dental all our retainers are guaranteed for a period of 1 year. 

We fully expect a retainer to last a minimum of this time with proper care. Any retainers broken in this time will be replaced at no cost. 

We frequently see retainers that have been sat on, chewed by the dog or lost (because they haven’t been put back in their retainer box in the morning). These can be replaced but will incur a small fee. They do require that we take a new impression of your teeth.

Why do retainers occasionally break?

We keep retainers to the smallest most comfortable size possible. This encourages our patients to wear them and it becomes routine to wear at night.

From our experience, larger retainers are simply not worn by patients and the teeth can then move.

Can bonded retainers break?

2nd woman with clear dental retainer

Yes, they can and do. 

We usually bond wire retainers from the back of the canine tooth to canine tooth (6 teeth). Sometimes a little piece of wire can come away from the tooth (usually a canine). If this happens, we encourage patients to gently push the wire back against the tooth and wear the Essix retainer.

We can quickly and easily re-bond this piece of wire in the clinic. Don’t pull off the wire if part of it comes loose.

As this means we have to remove all the glue from the back of the teeth and on a separate day we will have to re-bond the wire.

Can retainers damage the teeth?

No. Well made Essix retainers won’t damage the teeth or gums. 

Fixed wire retainers do make flossing and cleaning a little more difficult. We recommend Superfloss for patients with wire retainers and also regular (twice yearly) trips to the hygienist.

Proper care of your retainers

Essix retainers need to be properly cleaned and maintained. Every morning they need to be brushed and washed but not with hot water. Hot water melts them.

At 3Dental we provide a product called ‘retainer brite’ which can help keep the retainers fresh and clean.

Conclusion

So there you have it. A summary on dental retainers, what they're used for, the different types and more.

As mentioned these are an extension to all orthodontic treatments. If you feel like you could benefit from straighter teeth, then get in touch today for a free consultation!

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