Some retainers can be used for minor tooth movements or bite correction when a removable appliance would be the best option for the patient. Most retainers simply do what their name implies: they retain the teeth in their present positions. Even if the teeth are not perfect and orthodontic treatment is not desired, retainers can be used to stop the shifting in its tracks.
Retainers are very important to hold the teeth after braces and it is best if they are made a life-long priority. As your orthodontist in Melbourne we usually recommend retainers to be worn close to full-time for a period of about six months after braces are removed so the teeth can stabilize in their new positions. After this period we recommend retainer wear every night. Teeth will change throughout life unless something is done to hold them in position. Some people are very lucky and changes are only minimal over a long period of time and some people’s teeth can shift quickly. It is impossible to predict how fast they will move. They can move even if wisdom teeth are missing or extracted.
There are a three types of retainers most commonly used: hard plastic and wire (Hawley) retainers, clear soft plastic retainers, and fixed (permanent) retainers. We believe strongly in the Hawley retainers primarily because of the drawbacks of the other types.
The clear plastic retainers fit around all surfaces of the teeth like a bleaching tray. They do not allow upper and lower teeth to contact each other and the molar areas can be worn through pretty quickly due to grinding, so they usually need to be replaced periodically. They are much cheaper to produce than Hawley retainers, although most orthodontists charge similar fees for them.
The most commonly used fixed retainers are wires glued to the insides of each of the lower six front teeth. If one of the glued areas comes loose, it may not be noticed until that tooth has moved. The bite will usually not allow one of these types of retainers to be placed in the upper arch. The tongue side of the lower front teeth has the highest accumulation of plaque and tartar in the mouth, and it is where your hygienist will usually spend the most time cleaning. Having something glued here makes this area even more difficult to keep clean and floss and therefore it can increase risk for periodontal disease and cavities.
Hawley retainers are removable to allow for good hygiene and they can last a lifetime if properly cared for. Everyone that works in our office has this type of retainer.