Retainers & the different types & care

When considering Orthodontic treatment to straighten our teeth we must also think about what comes after. That is, what is required once our appliances come out or off and we are left with that fabulous smile. How do we maintain the new status quo?

The human body is constantly changing. Our hair and nails grow, skin sheds and bones are remodelling. Teeth are no different so once we achieve the desired result it is sensible to put in place some simple steps to maintain our new smile.

While moving teeth, the gums and fibrous ligaments supporting them become slightly loose as the bone in the surrounding jaw structures remodels to allow the teeth to move into the new position. Following this a retainer is placed into the mouth to support these tissues while they take some time, usually a few months to return to their usual form. Think of it a little like planting a tree where a structure such as a stake or tie is attached to assist settling into the new environment.



Various types of removable retainers are used depending on the needs of the individual. Some may consist of wire and acrylic but the clear plastic version is the most common because it is virtually invisible. These are usually worn for a period of between one and six months fulltime. This is the most critical time where your teeth are the most likely to move back. Following this early period of fulltime wear your retainers will likely be reduced to night time. In the long term, ideally a retainer is worn a few nights per week to maintain a straight smile.

Wearing a retainer is usually more comfortable than braces however it does take a few days to adjust. The appliance will cover the inside tongue surfaces of the teeth which may in the short term impact your speech, make swallowing awkward and increase your saliva flow. These are all temporary changes that usually return to normal after a few days of wear.

The main disadvantage with removable retainers is that there are removable! Although they should be taken out for activities such as eating and cleaning they must be worn for the remainder of the prescribed time. Unfortunately, every now and then we see patients return after not wearing their retainers as advised by their Doctor and their teeth have moved! It is distressing for families to be faced with the dilemma of committing to further treatment and fees to realign teeth which could have been maintained with simple retainer wear.

Care of your removable retainers includes carrying a case for them with you at all times. This allows for safe storage of the appliance when you remove it for eating. Retainers should be removed when eating or drinking anything other than water but they can be lost if they are wrapped in a tissue or napkin and not stored correctly.

Retainers should be cleaned each time you brush your teeth. It is not advisable to clean your retainers with toothpaste as this might scratch the retainer. Instead brush the Appliance with a drop of dishwashing liquid or pump soap and a toothbrush to remove all food, plaque and bacteria. Then rinse well with cold water. Don’t use hot water on your retainers or leave them heated areas such as cars or window sills. This may distort them resulting in a poor fit.

Once you are reduced to wearing your retainer at night time, it should be cleaned and stored in a cool place when it is not being worn.

Finally, pets love retainers! Dogs and Cats will chew them up, which ends in an expensive trip to your Orthodontist for a replacement. Always store them in a sealed container away from the reach of your furry loved ones when they are not being worn.


Although they are called permanent retainers, these could be considered medium term retainers. Comprised of a thin wire positioned and adhered to the back of the front teeth with glue, similar to that which is used to fix the braces to the front of your teeth.

These retainers are always worn in addition to a removable retainer, not instead of a removable retainer and are usually placed in circumstances where the teeth have moved substantially and require extra support in their new environment.

Care must be taken of these types of retainers to ensure their longevity and over a period of time, typically in a few years they may require repair, removal or replacement.

They must be brushed and flossed thoroughly to prevent tooth and gum disease and regularly checked to be sure that they are still sound. Eating hard or sticky foods with a bonded retainer is the quickest way to ensure it’s demise!


In short, if you want to maintain good alignment of your teeth then committing to regular retainer wear is best. After the initial period of full time you will likely be reduced to wear retainers just at night time. Talk to your Doctor about the best wear protocol for the future to ensure you maintain the result you desire.

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