Do Retainers Really Work?

Do Retainers Really Work?

You’ve imagined this day for so long — your braces come off, and you finally get to go free and natural. Your tongue can slide over your teeth with ease, there’s no hardware to interfere with your smile, you can eat whatever you want, and you feel a sense of accomplishment and completion. 

Then reality hits you — you need a retainer.

If that bums you out — we get it. After months or years of teeth-straightening treatment, nothing’s more disheartening than hearing it’s not really over. This is a normal response and one we hear often at LM Orthodontics in McLean, Virginia. That’s why our team of experts has compiled these facts about retainers so you can see when and why they’re necessary.

The science of shifting teeth 

The tissues that connect your teeth to your jawbone — tooth roots, nerves, gums, and blood vessels — are flexible. That’s what makes it possible for braces or clear aligners to work. By adding sustained and progressive pressure, these appliances gradually manipulate the position of your teeth, so you can go from crooked to stick-straight in a year or two.

At the end of your treatment, we remove your braces and reveal a stellar smile. Unfortunately, in most cases, that sudden removal of structural support enables your teeth to shift back into their original crooked positions — a condition called orthodontic relapse. This happens for several reasons:

Even aging and gum disease can influence the position of your teeth, especially when the soft tissues and fibers are still soft and relaxed after orthodontic treatment.

How soon do teeth shift after braces?

Immediately. Your post-braces teeth are most vulnerable in the first few months after treatment. You may not see it in the mirror, but under your gums, the movement is significant. By the time you notice a difference in appearance or feel, the relapse has progressed to the point where you may need to repeat your orthodontic treatment, or at least get a touch-up treatment.

Do teeth ever stop shifting?

Your teeth are always on the move to some degree. From the time you’re born, your teeth shift to accommodate growth. Once you reach adulthood, they continue to make minor moves that coincide with your chewing habits, your oral health, and your age. However, after months or years of braces or aligners, the likelihood of shifting is even greater. 

The duration of this period varies from person to person, but studies show that the connective tissues, such as the periodontal ligaments and gingival fibers, can take up to 7 months to stabilize. Without intervention, up to 90% of orthodontic patients report significant relapse. 

To keep your teeth from reverting to their pre-braces state, you need to wear a retainer.

How retainers stop your teeth from shifting

At LM Orthodontics, we offer three types of retainers: fixed, removable, and Vivera®. Fixed retainers are bonded to the back of your teeth, removable retainers have wires that snap onto your back teeth, and Vivera is a removable clear plastic appliance. 

These devices are less noticeable and less cumbersome than your teeth-straightening treatment, and they don’t exert as much force. Their job is to hold your teeth in their new positions while your tissues stabilize and your bone hardens.

If you never wear your retainer, or you don’t wear it as often as you should (especially during the first year), your teeth will likely shift. At this point, your retainer can’t fix the problem. Trying to reposition teeth with a retainer can damage your teeth or break your retainer.

Don’t throw away all the time and money you invested in your teeth-straightening treatment by failing to wear your retainer. To find out which type is best for you, schedule an appointment at LM Orthodontics by requesting an in-person consultation using our online scheduling tool or calling our friendly staff today. 

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