The type of retainer prescribed will depend on the type of braces you wore earlier, your individual needs, and your lifestyle.
Retainers are prescribed to protect the results of orthodontic treatment. The longevity of your retainers depends largely on the type that you opt for. The two main types of retainers are removable acrylic ones and fixed permanent ones. The lifespan of each depends on how well you take care of your mouth and the retainer. Both types of retainers can potentially last for years if you routinely clean and avoid damaging them. On average, removable retainers tend to last for about 5-10 years, while permanent retainers can potentially last for decades.
The lifespan of retainers also depends on the following factors:
- The amount of stress. The metal wire is put under pressure while chewing.
- Your dentist’s precision while fitting the retainers also influences how well they will stay in place and how easy it will be for you to floss and clean your teeth properly.
- Some people have their fixed retainers for several years, while others find that they only lasted a few months.
What are the different types of retainers?
The type of retainer prescribed will depend on the type of braces you wore earlier, your individual needs, and your lifestyle. The three most common types of retainers are:
Removable Hawley wire retainers
- Lasts for a long time
- Can be tightened or repaired
- Allow the bite to “settle” into a more comfortable position over time
- Can be custom designed with many colors, logos, etc.
- Do not cover the biting surface of the teeth, so they don’t protect against grinding
- Allow slight movement of the teeth
- Are more expensive to replace
- More noticeable visually as the metal wire can be seen
- Bulky coverage of the palate is bothersome to some patients
- Can be lost or broken
Removable clear plastic retainers
- Hold the teeth in the exact position they were moved to
- Protect the teeth against wear from grinding
- Almost invisible
- Are less expensive to replace than other retainer options
- If slight movement occurs, wearing them full time can help move the teeth back into the proper position
- Don’t last as long as the other retainers
- Are easy to lose because they are so clear
Bonded permanent retainers
- Can last for many years if properly maintained
- Can’t be lost as they are permanently glued in
- Are much more difficult to clean, brush, and floss
- You must be mindful about not eating things that are too hard
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How to care for your orthodontic retainer?
Here are some tips for caring for your retainers:
- Brush and floss around your fixed retainer. The wire can accumulate food and plaque just like braces, so oral hygiene is important. You will also want to keep up with your regular dental appointments, so your dentist can ensure the area is clean and cavity-free.
- Always keep your removable retainer in its case when you are not wearing it. Never place it on a napkin or tissue because it can get thrown away.
- Pets love retainers, so it is best to store them in their case when you take them out to brush and floss. The last thing you want is your dog damaging it.
- Remove your retainer before eating and drinking anything aside from plain water. It is especially important to take it out even if you’re just taking a sip of a drink. The liquid and sugars can get stuck between your teeth and your retainer, which will increase your risk of tooth decay.
- As for how to clean your retainer, gently brush it with a soft-bristled toothbrush and some nonabrasive toothpaste whenever you brush your teeth. This will get rid of plaque and any food debris. For deeper cleaning, you can also occasionally use a retainer cleaner and let it soak. This will prevent it from smelling and get rid of any build-up.
- Don’t store clear retainers in hot vehicles or drink hot drinks with them in your mouth. The heat can warp the retainer, which will affect the fit and could potentially result in your teeth shifting.
- If you lose a retainer, call the doctor’s office right away to have it replaced. Not wearing your retainer even for a few nights, will result in your teeth shifting. It is important to get a new one to maintain your smile.
The easiest way to ensure your smile stays straight is to think ahead and always have a spare set on hand, especially when you are not using permanent retainers.
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Medically Reviewed on 3/23/2021
American Association of Orthodontists. Post-Treatment. https://www.aaoinfo.org/blog/parent-s-guide-post/post-treatment/