“The phase of orthodontics that determines long-term success is completely dependent on the patient,” says Dr. Pedro Alquizar, a Miami braces expert. “We can create a beautiful smile with perfectly aligned teeth and bite, but it’s up to them to maintain that by wearing their retainers.”
The average length of orthodontic treatment is about two years, but to maintain the proper alignment of the teeth and jaws, patients will need to wear a fixed or removable appliance after the braces are taken off.
“If the patient wants to ensure their teeth stay straight, they need to wear retainers for life, but the first year after the braces are removed is a crucial period since this is when periodontal ligaments are solidifying into their new positions,” says Dr. Phillip Kaner, who has been providing orthodontic care for four decades.
After that critical first year, retainer wear can gradually taper off. According to the Kendall orthodontist, eventually, most people will only need to wear their retainer at night or maybe even just a few times a week.
What Are Your Retainer Options
There are three main types of retainers:
- Wires. Hawley retainers are acrylic that is molded to fit into the palate – the roof of the mouth – with a metal wire that surrounds the outside of the teeth to keep them in position. The wire can be adjusted, and the orthodontist can tweak teeth movement.
- Invisible. A vacuum-formed retainer, sometimes referred to by its brand name Essix, is a thin clear material made out of a polypropylene or polyvinylchloride. The retainer fits over the entire arch of upper or lower teeth and looks similar to the aligner trays used during Invisalign treatment.
- Permanent. Fixed retainers are wires bonded to the lingual side of the lower incisors. They can last indefinitely, but they are not typically used for the upper arch. The benefit is that you don’t have to remember to put it in, but the wire can make dental care and flossing more difficult for some patients.
Research has proven that teeth tend to shift and move over time, even into late adulthood, whether the person had orthodontic treatment or not. Teeth movement is a normal part of maturing and getting older. Some people’s teeth shift more than others, and there’s no way to accurately predict how much that will be.
“This much is predictable though – if you don’t wear a retainer on a long-term basis, your teeth will eventually shift out of place, and all the time and money you put into your smile will be wasted,” says Dr. Alquizar, Miami orthodontics expert.
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