A blue orthodontic retainer being hand polished by Dr. Skarin

Wearing Dental Retainers After Braces

Wearing Dental Retainers After Braces


Keeping your teeth straight for life after treatment is done

9 min read

Congratulations. Your braces are removed and now you finally have that beautiful healthy smile you have been waiting for. It’s time to show the world.

Not so fast! Unfortunately, we have some bad news… your new beautiful smile is slowly becoming less and less straight every minute of every day. Every bite of food and every tongue thrust to the back of the teeth slowly but surely pushes your teeth out of alignment. If left unchecked, those newly straight teeth can become noticeably crooked after only several months.

Here is the good news. Orthodontists have a way to keep your smile from degrading over time by wearing a simple device on the teeth. This device is called a retainer, and its sole purpose is to keep your beautiful smile beautifully straight for life.

Overview on how the retainer process works

  • Step 1 - Your braces or aligner buttons are removed
  • Step 2 - The doctor takes and impression of your teeth
  • Step 3 - Schedule an appointment to pick up your retainer
  • Step 4 - At the appointment, the retainer is placed in the mouth and adjusted
  • Step 5 - Wear retainer nightly, or as directed by doctor
  • Step 6 - Put your retainer in supplied retainer box upon waking up

Step 1 - Orthodontic treatment completed

Retainers are only necessary after orthodontic treatment is completed. Dr. Skarin will work with you and let you know when your teeth and your bite are perfectly aligned and a debonding appointment is scheduled.

At the debonding appointment, Dr. Skarin will carefully “debond” your braces or aligners and remove them from your teeth. After a bit of polishing, we then take an impression of your teeth.

Step 2 - Dental Impression

Think of an impression as taking a rolled up bunch of bread, putting it in your your mouth, biting down, and then taking removing the ball from your mouth. What you are left with is an imprint of all your teeth in the bread.

Instead of bread, we use a very special material that is incredibly accurate down to fractions of a micron. We need as close to perfect accuracy of your teeth because the tooth marks placed on that material are what we use to create the shape of your retainer. Some practices choose to use 3d scans of the mouth instead of impression material, but to date they are still not as accurate as a properly taken impression.

Dr. Skarin will take an impression of your upper teeth and your bottom teeth. Each impression takes about 30 seconds, after which you can choose a color for the retainer from dozens of options.

Step 3 - Schedule an appointment

After getting a dental impression, you will have a second appointment already made to have your retainer “placed” and fitted for your mouth. This is either the next day or the following day. In emergencies, a retainer can be placed the same day!

As you await your appointment, your retainer will be created by Dr. Skarin and customized exactly to your mouth and teeth.

Step 4 - Retainer placement

During the retainer placement appointment, Dr. Skarin will present the newly created retainer. This retainer needed to be “fitted” to ensure it fits perfectly with your bite. Since Dr. Skarin does all his own lab work, changes and adjustments that are needed to make your retainer fit perfectly can easily be made on the fly until it fits precisely.

Step 5 - Wearing your retainer

For the first six weeks after finishing braces or Invisalign, Dr. Skarin will usually recommend wearing the retainer all day and only taking it out to eat, brush your teeth, play sports, and/or participate in special events. This allows for the recently formed bone holding the teeth to become more dense and less subject to movement.

Once the teeth get used to their position, it is recommended to only wear your retainer every night while you sleep. You can then take the retainer out when you wake up and go about your day as you normally would. Wearing your retainer while you sleep is crucial to ensure your teeth remain in place.

Step 6 - Starting your day

Upon waking up, you can remove your retainer and go about your day, but before you do so, please brush your retainers with your toothbrush and some toothpaste. After brushing your retainers, place them in your supplied retainer box (you will receive retainer boxes at your appointment).

This is VERY important. Always put your retainers back in your retainer box. Do not put them on the table near pets (dogs love to chew retainers) and do not put the in a napkin (retainers are frequently thrown out this way). Just place your retainer in your retainer box and go about your day. Repeat steps 5 and 6 daily.

Types of Retainers

There are several different styles of retainers, each of them functions similarly, but each one has drastically different advantages and disadvantages.

Retainer options include:

  • Permanent Retainer - this kind of retainer is bonded to the back of the teeth “permanently.” An orthodontist can always remove this kind retainer, so It is not truly permanent, but the idea is that you cannot remove the retainer This is a great option for people that do not want to have to worry about remembering to wear their retainer at night since it is always on their teeth.
  • Hawley Retainer - Hawley retainers are the oldest retainer, but arguably the best. This style is removable and utilizes metal wire and hard plastic that snaps onto the teeth. This style is an all around powerhouse that can be adjusted by the orthodontist on the fly to add different springs and wires to move your teeth back into place if your teeth get too far out of position from forgetting to wear the retainer. It is also extremely durable and lasts for years.
  • Aligner Style Retainer - These retainers are the newest style and look like an Invisalign aligner tray from a distance. Sometimes they are a rigid plastic and other times they come in a softer material. This style of retainer is removable and is aesthetically clear and without any wires,. These retainers also need to be constantly replaced every few months as the plastic wears down quickly.

When patients ask us what style of retainer they should get, Dr. Skarin always suggests looking at all the pluses and minuses of each retainer type. We offer each type, but we generally advise starting with a Hawley style retainer as they are extremely durable and customizable.

Retainer FAQ

What is a Retainer?

Retainers are a plastic or metal frame that is placed behind and/or over the teeth. Think of it as a hard sheath that keeps your teeth in position, almost like a removable “cast” on a broken bone. This “sheath” is worn at night before you go to bed and is removed after waking up.

Do I really need retainers?

Yes. Wearing a retainer is crucial to keeping your smile straight after having your braces removed. Remember, your teeth did not start off looking like they do now.

When do I wear retainers?

Retainers should be worn at night right before bed. When you wake-up, simply place in your retainer case after cleaning.

What is a retainer check?

A retainer check is typically a short appointment to evaluate the condition of the retainer and to make any adjustments to make sure it is maintaining proper alignment of your teeth.

I bent my retainer. What do I do now?

Please refrain from using your retainer. The doctor will need to accurately bend it back into place. Please call the office at your earliest convenience. The longer you go without wearing your retainer, the more your teeth move out of place and the harder it is to move them back into position. If left without a retainer for too long, braces may be necessary.

Retainer checks and appointments to bend back retainers are included as frequently as you would like for life (for as long as Dr. Skarin continues to practice!). Please do not hesitate to call. Everything is included in the cost of your entire braces treatment, even if you have to come in for a retainer check every single week.

Do I need to clean my retainer?

A dirty retainer will continue to work, but it will attract plaque, which will eventually harden and become calculus. An unsightly white film or a hardened white substance will be seen on the plastic. If wearing a clear retainer, that plaque can build up on your teeth and attract even more bacteria and tooth decay.

How do I clean my retainer?

When you wake up, take out retainer and brush your teeth. When you are finished brushing, before washing off your toothbrush simply brush your retainers for a minute or two with the suds from brushing your teeth. Wash off the retainer and then immediately place the retainer in your retainer case.

All retainer plastics are porous and will pick up stain, so keeping them clean is important.

When can I stop wearing my retainer?

If you wish to keep your same beautiful position for the rest of your life, unfortunately, you will need to wear a your retainer for the rest of your life, but possibly not every night. Dr. Skarin’s rule-of-thumb is that you need to wear the retainer often enough to keep it from feeling tight when putting it on. If it feels tight on the teeth, patients are not wearing it frequently enough (or they bent the retainer out of position).

Think of it this way, you brush your teeth and floss your teeth for life. Simply add wearing a retainer as part of your bedtime and wake-up routine, it only adds a couple seconds!

I forgot to wear my retainer. What now?

Sometimes people forget to wear their retainer before going to bed. If enough nights go by without wearing it, snapping the retainer on the teeth will be more difficult since the teeth have moved. As a result, a tight retainer on the teeth may result in tooth soreness in the morning, but this is no cause for alarm. That soreness means your teeth are being moved back into place. Continuing to wear your retainer consistently will move your teeth toward your desired position.

If a tight retainer cannot be snapped onto the teeth due to too many days going by, a new retainer will need to be created for the new position of your teeth.

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