Most of us have seen kids wearing or removing retainers, or even remember having them ourselves, but retainers have come a long way and each type works a bit differently and needs different care. retainersYou may have questions about the type of retainer your child is receiving, or how your child should care for it.

What is a Retainer?

Retainers work to keep teeth in new positions after wearing braces. It’s important to wear retainers to keep teeth stay set in new positions because kids and teenagers aren’t done growing, and their teeth can shift in their expanding jaw. Retainers help to control this natural shifting.

Some retainers are even used when braces would be unnecessary for the job at hand, as when only one teeth needs to be moved or to close spaces between teeth to prevent future problems.

Retainers can help with many mouth problems besides shifting teeth, such as “tongue thrust” which is a condition where your tongue sneaks through your teeth when you talk. This trains your tongue to stop interfering with your speech. They can also be used to help people with temporomandibular disorder (TMD) which is usually the result of a bite problem (where the teeth don’t meet properly when the jaws are closed) or tooth grinding, which can be associated with TMD.

Listen to your Orthodontist

Your orthodontist will give you instructions about the schedule they believe you need when you get your retainer. Sometimes retainers need to be worn for everything but meals for a certain period of time (usually measured in months). Some kids can start right away only wearing their retainer at night.

Types of Retainers

  • Essix Retainer – This is a clear, plastic retainer that is sometimes placed on the upper teeth one or two days after braces are removed. It looks similar to the Invisalign appliance. It is usually worn at night for about 24 months. After it wears out, the orthodontist may replace it with a more traditional wire retainer. Some people have expressed discomfort with this type of retainer.
  •  Bonded retainers – they are usually placed behind the lower teeth after removal of braces. It’s bonded to the teeth with composite material and such is considered “permanent” because it can’t be removed. They don’t usually use this type of retainer with the upper teeth because it would interfere with your bite. A bonded retainer can remain in place for several years.
  •  Hawley Retainer – this is a more traditional wire retainer that is normally designed after several years of using another retaining issue. It has the added benefit of being adjustable so minor tooth movement is possible. Sometimes this type of retainer can be worn full time instead of braces to correct minor orthodontic issues. The plastic part of the retainer can be made in a variety of colors and patterns for personalization purposes.

Cleaning your Retainer

Retainers live in your mouth along with food particles and bacteria and plaque that contribute to tooth decay. As such, it’s very important to clean your retainer thoroughly and regularly. You should check with your orthodontist to find out what type of cleaning they recommend. Some kinds shouldn’t be cleaned with toothpaste, and plastic retainers can crack if they get too dry outside your mouth, so they should usually be soaked when not in use. They should also be kept away from hot water or heat sources, and the wire should be protected from bending.

This is one of the reasons keeping your retainer case on hand is so important. You might even want to keep several of them around so you always have a safe, clean space to put your retainer that you won’t forget. For retainers that can’t be exposed to toothpaste and toothbrushes, like the Essix retainer, there are soaking solutions available to help keep them clean and odor-free. Your orthodontist can recommend the products you should use to keep your retainer in top condition.