Braces are usually the go-to solution for correcting a crooked bite, an underbite or an overbite. But once the braces come off, another orthodontic appliance -- the retainer -- usually enters the scene. Retainers help your teeth maintain their new, corrected position instead of shifting around after the braces are removed. This gives your gums and the bones of your upper and lower jaw time to adapt to and firm up around the new positioning of the teeth. Sometimes, retainers can even be used in lieu of braces for minor corrections [source: WebMD ].
A retainer is a removable apparatus comprised of artificial connective tissue made of acrylic or rubber, which fits against your gums, and metal wires that fit over the external surface of the teeth to hold the retainer in place. In some cases, especially if the goal is just to prevent regressive movement once braces are removed, you can use a clear retainer that doesn't have wires. These are made of thermoplastic material, which -- when warmed up -- can be bit down upon so as to create a permanent impression of your teeth once it cools.
You may start off wearing your retainer only at night, or you may be required to wear it full-time for a long period of time -- orthodontists usually determine this on a case-by-case basis. No matter what the requirements, the end result -- a beautiful, healthy smile -- will be worth following your orthodontist's instructions closely. If you don't, you risk undoing whatever progress your braces have made.
If you're getting a retainer to correct bite issues, the total cost of molding, office visits, X-rays and other related costs generally runs somewhere from $500 to $1,000 [source: costhelper]. And a replacement retainer may cost anywhere from $100 to $250. That's why it's so important to take care of the one you have. One way to do that is simply to wear your retainer when you're supposed to, so you don't risk breaking it, losing it or accidentally throwing it away.
When it's not in your mouth, keep your retainer in its case. Never, for example, wrap your retainer in a napkin while you're eating and place it upon on a dining table, or else it will soon enough end up in the trashcan.
Bacteria and plaque also pose a significant threat to the life of your retainer. They can build up on it, just like they do on your teeth, making the apparatus less than hygienic and affecting the fit. For these reasons, regular cleaning is vital to retainer care. To learn more about keeping your retainer fresh and germ-free, read on to the next page.
How to Clean Retainers
Your retainer is an important part of completing your orthodontic work, so take care of it and it will take care of you. Regardless of whether it's made of acrylic and wire or thermoplastic, the process for cleaning your device should be pretty much the same.
Long before bacteria and plaque build up to the point of affecting the fit, they'll cause your retainer to develop a bad odor. The best way to prevent this is to brush your retainer whenever you brush your teeth. If you don't regularly use a soft toothbrush, purchase an extra toothbrush with soft bristles to use when cleaning your retainer, so as not to scratch or damage it. Brush the device gently, and then rinse it off.
You can use toothpaste when brushing the retainer, but use a type that's considered gentle -- a harsh toothpaste may damage the appliance. Look, for example, for a toothpaste that's formulated for people who are prone to canker sores; these gentle toothpastes should be free of sodium lauryl sulfate and other strong cleansing agents that could damage the retainer [source: Bergh].
In addition to brushing your retainer, you will need to disinfect it by soaking it in a denture cleanse or a cleanser made specifically for retainers (your orthodontist can recommend the best option for you). These may contain peracetic acid or other antifungal/antibacterial agents, and you'll probably need to mix them with warm -- but never hot -- water. Thoroughly rinse the retainer with plain water before placing it back in your mouth. Do this daily if possible or once a week at the very least.
Don't ever put your retainer in the dishwasher, boiling water, the washing machine or in direct sunlight -- the heat from these sources can damage the device. If your retainer becomes cracked, or if any wires become loose, contact your orthodontist immediately.
Failing to properly care for your retainer could lengthen the period of your orthodontic treatment, so keep up with it, clean it and -- most importantly -- wear it as directed. For lots more information on oral care, check out the links on the next page.
- Bergh, Brian, DMD. "Orthodontic Retainer Care." (Oct. 25, 2011) http://www.orthodonticretainercare.com/
- Costhelper. "Retainers cost." Nov. 2007. (Oct. 25, 2011) http://www.costhelper.com/cost/health/retainer.html
- Harris, Maggie. "Retainer Tips from a Tech." (Oct. 22, 2011) http://www.archwired.com/Retainer_Article.htm
- Harris Orthodontic Laboratory. "Retainer Care: Dos and Don'ts." (Oct. 25, 2011) http://www.myretainer.com/RetainerCare.html
- MedicineNet. "Dental Braces: Orthodontics." Apr. 23, 2002. (Oct. 25, 2011) http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=90272
- WebMD. "Caring for Teeth With Braces and Retainers." Feb. 8, 2009. (Oct. 25, 2011) http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/care-of-braces-retainers
- WebMD. "Dental Braces and Retainers." Feb. 8, 2009. (Oct. 22, 2011) http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/braces-and-retainers