When orthodontic treatment is completed, more often than not a patient will be recommended to have a retainer for the retention of their newly aligned teeth. The retainer will be either fixed, meaning bonded directly to the back of the teeth, or removable, meaning it can be taken out and put back in. Retention is a crucial phase of orthodontics and may last a lifetime. There is always the potential for teeth to shift and rotate after orthodontia is removed, and a retainer is used as a way of preventing that from happening. The type of retainer and length of time the retainer should be used is a meaningful discussion to be had with your dentist/ orthodontist.
Fixed retainers are bonded into place on the backside of the front teeth, usually from canine to canine on the bottom (6 teeth), and lateral incisor to lateral incisor on the top (4 teeth.) The purpose of fixed retainers is to maintain the position of all the front teeth and prevent shifting and reversing of the results. The benefit of fixed retainers is that they don’t require patient compliance. The retainers are permanently bonded onto the teeth, so the patient doesn’t have to remember to put in and take out a retainer. Also, fixed retainers offer 24/7 retention for teeth. The downside to fixed retainers is the difficulty in keeping them clean. Because there is a wire obstructing the contacts of the teeth, it is difficult to floss, and bacteria more easily builds up. Special tools for flossing are required that may be tricky to use and take more time.
Removable retainers are retainers that can be taken out and put back in. They can be either clear plastic full coverage trays or metal wires. Typically, after the orthodontia is removed, it is recommended to wear the retainers as much as possible, only taking them out to eat and brush/floss. After a decided length of time, the retainers can then be worn just at night. The benefit of removable retainers is their ability to be removed for easier cleaning. There is no permanent wire obstructing the teeth and flossing is simpler. The downside of removable retainers is the necessity of patient compliance. The retainers will not retain the teeth if they are not worn as recommended.