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The Importance of Wearing a Retainer

Putting Retainer - Pediatric Dentist & Kids Orthodontist in La Mesa & El CajonSan Diego, CA – The day your braces come off, you no doubt think should be celebrated as a national holiday. While the day is exciting, it doesn’t mean your orthodontic treatment is finished, however.

“I love seeing the looks of excitement on patients’ faces the day their braces come off,” says Dr. Surillo. “They are filled with a renewed sense of self-confidence over their new smiles, and while the hardest work is over, there is still work to be done to ensure that smile stays straight.”

Retainer wear is actually one of the most important, but sometimes overlooked, aspects of orthodontic treatment.

To move to their new locations, your teeth have to actually loosen from their old locations as the braces guide them to their proper spots. The ligaments and tissues in the mouth that support the teeth are somewhat elastic, and until they get used to holding the teeth in their new locations, will have a tendency to try to pull them back to where they were before. That’s why retainer wear is so important in the first several months, and even years, after your braces come off.

But, your teeth will have a tendency to shift slightly over time. Just the aging process can cause them to move, so you should wear your retainer indefinitely, based on your orthodontist’s recommendations.

“A lot of adults are now seeking out orthodontic treatment to perfect their smiles,” says Dr. Surillo, whose San Diego orthodontics office treats orthodontic and pediatric dentistry patients. “It’s not uncommon for an adult patient to tell us they wore braces as a teen, but didn’t follow through with wearing the retainer.”

After your braces are removed, your orthodontist will discuss retainer wear with you. Many orthodontists will recommend wearing it around the clock for the first several months to a year after the braces come off. This will ensure that the ligaments and tissues of the mouth have adequate time to adjust the teeth to their new locations.

After the first several months, your orthodontist may tell you that you can switch to only wearing the retainer at night. Many orthodontists now realize the high probability that the teeth will shift over the course of your lifetime, so they will recommend wearing the retainer forever.

“I always tell my patients that they worked hard for their new smile, so I would hate for all that work to be undone by forgetting to wear the retainer,” says Dr. Surillo. “I know it might have seemed like wearing your braces took forever, but it takes the bones and soft tissues of the mouth longer to adjust, so wearing your retainer is crucial to stabilizing your new bite. For most of my patients I usually recommend a bonded permanent retainer on the lower arch. This is a special braided ‘dead’ wire that is glued to the back of the incisors and canines which holds them in this final position without having to use a traditional removable acrylic retainer.”

The main advantage to a bonded retainer is that now, the patient only has to worry about one retainer, not two, and we are insuring that these lower incisors stay put for a long time. Research at the University of Washington School of Dentistry has demonstrated that these lower incisors are the ones most likely to relapse, and having a bonded permanent retainer, which is very comfortable and needs little patient cooperation, will ensure the best outcome for retention.

The downside is that it makes oral hygiene a little more difficult in this area but the majority of Dr. Surillo’s patients take great care of these areas, especially when they are seen routinely for follow-up appointments. Dr. Surillo recommends leaving these in place until well into their twenties or if their dentist sees that the patient is not able to clean these teeth very well. The chances of dental decay or gingival inflammation is increased but totally preventable.

Your retainer will be molded just for you. It can take a few days to get used to wearing the retainer, and you may notice your speech is slightly altered in the first couple of days. It may also feel slightly uncomfortable, but remember that it can’t do its job if it isn’t worn. You’ll be used to it in no time.

To ensure your beautiful new smile lasts a lifetime, be sure to follow your orthodontist’s instructions for retainer wear and care. If your retainer gets damaged or lost, call your orthodontist to get a replacement one as soon as possible.