Permanent vs. Removable Retainers

As an orthodontic patient, we know how much time, dedication, and hard work you’ve put into successfully completing your treatment. Now that you’re in the final stretch of wearing braces or aligners, it can be tempting to think you’re almost through with orthodontics forever. However, you’ve got one more step to go. Braces and aligners are only the first phase in the orthodontic process. When your newly aligned smile is revealed, you deserve to celebrate the beautiful results! But then it’s back to business –  the second phase of treatment begins once your teeth and jaw are aligned, and it’s just as important as the first when it comes to maintaining your brand new smile.

Retainers play an important role in keeping your smile straight

If you’re a patient here at Shaw Orthodontics, chances are good that you’ve heard us talk many times before about how essential retainers are in rounding out the orthodontic process. That’s because the second phase of treatment revolves around using them regularly!

As we get older, our teeth experience a natural phenomenon known as “relapse,” where they tend to drift back towards their original positions. This can happen even after they have been straightened with braces or aligners. In order to keep your teeth in their new and improved positions once the braces come off or you’re done with your aligners, it is crucial to wear your retainer exactly as directed by Dr. Shaw.

To understand why retainers are so important for the long-term success of your smile, it helps to learn about the teeth and how orthodontics move them. Teeth aren’t just solid fixtures in the jaw. Instead, each one is held in its socket by elastic ligaments that attach the roots to the bone. These ligaments are living tissue that are affected by the movement of the teeth, and it is this particular attachment that allows for the small movements of the teeth during treatment. As you can see, it’s not just your teeth we want to stay in place once treatment is complete!

When braces place tension around the teeth, new ligaments (and sometimes bone) are formed. Once the first phase of treatment, or the remodeling phase, is complete, those same tissues, ligaments, and bone will need some time to stabilize. When left alone, teeth will almost always migrate back to their previous positions. That’s why patients who don’t wear their retainer regularly will often find their teeth shifting back to where they once were over time, undoing almost every step of their orthodontic treatment along the way.

The good news is, it’s incredibly easy to avoid this kind of relapse. To keep your newly straightened smile in place, all you have to do is wear your retainer as instructed by Dr. Shaw!  The first step in this second phase of treatment will be determining what type of retainer will work best for you. Although Dr. Shaw will always look at the specifics of your individual case before recommending any particular retainer, it’s always good to know the different types available and how they can benefit your smile!

Colorful retainers

Fixed retainers

A fixed retainer generally consists of a thin wire positioned across the interior surface of the lower or upper front teeth, which is then bonded (or glued) into place. Because the wire stretches across several teeth, your oral hygiene routine will be similar to that of a braces patient, especially when it comes to flossing.

Fixed retainers can be particularly helpful for patients who have had a large gap between the two upper front teeth. Once braces or aligners close the space, a fixed retainer can be used to keep it closed. Even though it may take a little extra work to keep this type of retainer clean, it often has the best overall outcome, thanks to the bonded wire holding teeth in a more ideal alignment over a longer period of time. Plus you never have to remember to wear it!

Removable retainers

When it comes to removable retainers, there are a couple of different options available. Hawley retainers are made of wire and an acrylic material, while the Essix retainer is composed of a clear plastic material that is similar to an Invisalign aligner. All retainers are custom-made to fit your mouth once your orthodontic treatment is complete.

Hawley retainers

These are one of the oldest types of retainers, and probably the one that is most easily recognized. Made of stainless steel, these retainers are kept in place by wrapping a wire around your teeth and combining that with an acrylic arch that rests against the roof of your mouth. The metal wires can be adjusted to continue minor movement of the front teeth if needed. Many orthodontists are currently moving away from this more traditional retainer, but it can still be useful in some cases. Hawley retainers can be a bit more fragile than other retainers, so it’s important to take good care of it if you are given one to use.

Essix retainers

Essix retainers are customized trays made of a transparent plastic material. They both look and feel similar to the clear aligners that are used with a system like Invisalign, and are much less noticeable than the more traditional wire retainers. As long as you care for your Essix retainer properly, it should last as long as you need it.

It’s incredibly easy to keep your teeth and gums clean with both removable retainers, but you will have to remember to wear them exactly as directed in order to avoid any relapse. They can also be easier to misplace or damage, so you should be mindful of where your retainer is when you aren’t wearing it, and be sure to handle it with care.

There may be certain special cases that require the use of both permanent and removable retainers together to ensure no relapses occur, but this is something our team will discuss with you at the time if it ends up being applicable to you.

Comparing a retainer to an Invisalign aligner

Keep your smile straight for life with retainers from Shaw Orthodontics

At Shaw Orthodontics, we’ve made it our mission to create beautiful smiles for patients of all ages in the Rockwall and Watauga communities. Our talented team provide expertise, enthusiasm, and the highest-quality orthodontic care to every patient we treat because we know the impact a beautifully aligned, healthy smile can have on your oral health and your overall life, too!

We want to help you maintain that bright smile, and part of that is helping you find the right type of retainer. If you’ll be completing your braces or clear aligner treatment soon, and want to know more about retainers, get in touch with us any time. We’re always happy to discuss any questions or concerns you may have about your treatment. You can count on Shaw Orthodontics to keep your smile straight and your mouth healthy from your first appointment to your last!