A retainer is a customized and extremely useful tool that orthodontists can give you once your braces come off. Everyone loves feeling how smooth their teeth are once their braces come off…and seeing the difference in your smile can be an amazing experience.

So, what’s the purpose of wearing a retainer after braces? Hasn’t all the work been done? Haven’t braces done it all? Well, your teeth have a tendency to gradually slide back into their original position after you get your braces off.

You want to “retain” all of the benefits of braces, right? Braces can give you better aligned teeth, brighten your smile (and your self-esteem), and improve your long-term dental health by correctly aligning your jaw and reducing the wear and tear on your teeth that can result from poor alignment.

A great smile…teeth that could last a lifetime…higher self-esteem…that sounds great! It absolutely does. To make sure that those results last, you might want to explore the reasons why retainers are almost always used after braces.

smiling teen

Retainers After Braces: The Reasons Why

The supporting bone, gum tissue, and even your jaws can take some time to adjust to their new alignment. You can think of braces as the orthodontic tool that brings everything into alignment and retainers as the orthodontic tool that “retains” or locks in the long-term benefits of braces.

The time that orthodontics really focus on is the first month after your braces come off. That’s because in the first month, your teeth have a tendency to slide back into their original position; some orthodontists call this process “relapse” because without a retainer, your teeth are prone to going right back to their original location.

Your teeth need a bit of time to take on the better alignment that braces have worked so hard to give you. The average time that a retainer needs to be worn after treatment with braces is about a year, although patients with large gaps between their teeth may need to wear a retainer for slightly longer. The results are absolutely worth it, though.

· Wearing around-the-clock or only at night?

The first thing that patients usually want to know when it comes to retainers is whether they have to wear them 24/7 or only at night. The answer is that both could apply. It’s not unusual for a patient to wear their retainer around-the-clock in the first few months then switch over to wearing a retainer only at night.

· Different kinds of retainers

Retainers after braces are recommended for nearly every patient who’s had braces because retainers are so good at what they do. The most popular type of retainer is known as the “Hawley” removable retainer that can cover the roof of your mouth and be held together with clasps and wires.

That might sound uncomfortable but most patients find these kind of retainers no big deal and actually not that bad at all. Your orthodontist might also use a clear or fixed (bonded) retainer.

That said, semi-permanent options are slightly less common because these kinds of retainerswhile perhaps more subtle and unnoticeablehave a shorter lifespan and need to be adjusted more often. You might be reading this and wondering if removable retainers should be taken off before you eat, though?

· Retainers after braces and eating

For most kinds of retainers, you’ll be taking your retainer out prior to eating meals, brushing and flossing your teeth, or playing intense contact sports. When you take your retainer out, make sure to put it back in its box provided by your orthodontic team. They’re here to help!