Retainers are used to hold the teeth in position, after treatment has been completed. They are used because the bone has a memory that wants to move your teeth back to where they were. A retainer cannot move any teeth, it can only retain them in the position they are. It is sometimes confused with a spring retainer, which can move the teeth slightly.
A spring retainer is more correctly called a removable appliance. It is only good for rotating or tipping a tooth which is a minor movement. It cannot move the roots of the teeth or the jaws, so it cannot correct a deep overbite or crowding. It looks like a retainer with metal levers (springs) on the inside.
Retainers can be made from plastic, wire or a combination of the two. The standard retainer is the Hawley, which is made of plastic on the inside and wire along the outside of the teeth. This acts to retain the teeth in a narrow groove between the plastic and the wire. The plastic can be ordered in different colours, and a sticker can be placed on the inside, if you like. It must be worn regularly to be effective, as it is removable. Another removable type is the clear plastic retainer.
Retainers will affect your speech in the beginning. This is because the plastic against your palate takes up space that the tongue normally uses in pronunciation. Certain words are more difficult to say than others. After three days of wearing the retainers, your tongue would have adapted to this and your speech will be normal again. If you are having trouble pronouncing words correctly, then practise reading out loud. The more you practise, the quicker your speech will return to normal. If you stop wearing the retainers because you are embarrassed of the way you speak, then your teeth will move out of alignment. If they move too far out of alignment, then your retainers will not fit and you will need braces again to straighten your teeth.
Fixed retainers are made of wire that is bonded (glued) to the inside of the lower front teeth. These are used in cases in which the lower front teeth were crowded to start with and teeth were not removed to correct the crowding. They are also good for the forgetful patient, as they cannot be taken out or be lost.
You must wear your retainers day and night for the first six months. After that, you can wear them at night only. Some people may need to wear their retainers full time for an even longer period of time, to prevent any shifting of the teeth. In some cases, permanent retention may be necessary. The retention period is an important part of your overall treatment and should not be ignored.
Here are some recommendations for the proper care of your retainers:
- Carefully place the retainer appliance in your mouth. Use a mirror to see how to place it the first few times.
- Wear it all the time, for the first six months. You may remove it to eat, but remember to place it in the retainer case to avoid breakage, or losing it.
- Brush your teeth as well as the retainer after each meal with your regular toothbrush and toothpaste.
- Avoid placing the appliance in excessive heat, such as on the car dashboard, as this will distort it.
- Keep the appliance away from pets and small children, who may break or lose it.
- Always bring the appliance to each appointment, so that it may be checked and adjusted as needed.
- To correct your speech, the first few days of wearing the retainer, practise reading out loud from a book or your favorite magazine.
- After the first six months, the retainer can be worn at night only. After 24 months, it can be worn one night per week.