Orthodontic retainers are custom-made devices, made usually of wires or clear plastic, that hold teeth in position after surgery or any method of realigning teeth. They are most often used before or after dental braces to hold teeth in position while assisting the adjustment of the surrounding gums to changes in the bone. Most patients are required to wear their retainer(s) every night at first, with many also being directed to wear them during the day - at least initially. There are three types of retainers typically prescribed by orthodontists and dentists: Hawley, Essix, and Bonded (Fixed) retainers.
An entirely different category of orthodontic retainers are fixed retainers. A fixed retainer typically consists of a passive wire bonded to the tongue-side of the (usually, depending on the patient's bite, only lower) incisors. Unlike the previously-mentioned retainer types, fixed retainers cannot be removed by the patient. Some doctors prescribe fixed retainers regularly, especially where active orthodontic treatments have effected great changes in the bite and there is a high risk for reversal of these changes. While the device is usually required until a year after wisdom teeth have been extracted it is often kept in place for life. Fixed retainers may lead to tartar build-up or gingivitis due to the difficulty of flossing while wearing these retainers. As with dental braces, patients often must use floss threaders to pass dental floss through the small space between the retainer and the teeth.
If you have crooked teeth and/or a misaligned bite (an underbite or overbite), there are a variety of treatments that can help straighten your teeth, including dental braces and retainers.
Ask your dentist to refer you to an orthodontist, a dentist who specializes in correcting irregularities of the teeth.
The orthodontist will ask you questions about your health, conduct a clinical exam, gather impressions of your teeth, take photos of your face and teeth, and order dental X ray of your mouth and head. An appropriate treatment plan is made based on analysis of the gathered information.
In some cases, a removable retainer will be all that's necessary. In other rare cases (especially when there is an extreme overbite or underbite), surgery may be necessary. In most cases, however, braces will be needed.
Caring for Retainers
Every time you brush your teeth, brush your retainer as well. Once a day or at least once a week, disinfect your retainer by soaking it in a denture cleanser, such as Efferdent or Polident or other brand name solutions. Add the cleanser to a cup full of warm -- but never hot -- water. Thoroughly rinse the retainer with plain water before placing it back in your mouth.