Sometimes it feels like orthodontic treatment takes a long time. But the end result is so worth it! In my practice, the goal is to help my patients attain the smile of their dreams and then keep that smile for life. Here’s what you need to know to keep your smile for life, too.
When the Braces Come Off
When the braces finally come off, you’re free and clear, right? Not exactly. You’ve only completed the “active” part of treatment. Now it’s time for the “retention” phase. Though it may not seem like it, the retention phase is just as important as the active phase. That’s because your teeth have a strong pull to move back to where they came from, and if you don’t counteract it, you’re likely to lose your straight, even smile.
This can happen because your teeth are connected to the jaw bone by little elastic fibers called periodontal ligaments. When teeth are moved during the active phase, these ligaments stretch. When the braces come off, these ligaments still work to pull the teeth back to their original position. This phenomenon is especially strong in patients who had severe rotations or gaps.
Imagine going through months and months of wearing braces only to end up having your teeth start to drift back towards their starting position. It can and does happen, and it’s heartbreaking. Fortunately, there’s something you can do to prevent it from happening to you.
Retainers for the Smile of Your Life
The retention phase involves, as you probably guessed, retainers! It’s typical for patients to get both an upper retainer and a lower retainer after the braces come off. Your orthodontist will determine whether you need both and what kind of retainer is appropriate, too, since there’s more than one kind.
A fixed retainer is a wire that’s bonded to the back of the teeth. The benefit to you is that it can add an extra layer of security when keeping your teeth straight. The disadvantage is that it can make it much more difficult to clean in between your teeth. I sometimes use fixed retainers behind the upper teeth of patients that started their treatment with a large gap between their two front teeth.
Removable retainers are the other category of retainer. These are appliances that can be taken out, and there are two main types, Hawley and vacuum-formed (aka Essix or Clear) retainers. Hawley retainers are comprised of a metal wire that runs across the front teeth to keep them in place plus, on the upper teeth, an acrylic plate that covers the roof of the mouth or, on the lower teeth, acrylic that wraps around the tongue side of the teeth. Vacuum-formed retainers, instead, are made of a strong clear plastic and look like Invisalign or other aligners.
Keeping Your Smile for Life
Even if you don’t like wearing your retainer, it’s important to follow your orthodontist’s instructions. If you ever feel like skipping it, just think back to how amazing you felt when you saw your new smile for the first time when the braces came off. Just keep it up, and you can keep your new smile for life.