Why Do I Need To Wear Retainers After Braces?

What Do Retainers Do?

Retainers help prevent teeth from returning to their original positions following active treatment with braces or Invisalign.  Retainers help to lock the teeth into their new positions until the bones, ligaments, and gums surrounding the teeth are settled in their new positions.  Retainers are custom made to fit your teeth.  Molds are taken of your teeth and sent to a dental technician.  They will construct retainers for you which will be fitted by your orthodontist.

How Long Do I Need To Wear Retainers For?

Your orthodontist will advise you on how long you will need to wear your orthodontic retainers for.  When you first have your braces removed, you will need to wear them all the time for at least the first six months.  But how long you wear them for will lessen once you’ve had your braces off for a while.

What Are The Different Types Of Retainers?

There are 3 common types of retainers:

Hawley retainer

This type of retainer is made of acrylic and metal.  The acrylic part sits behind the teeth with a metal wire which sits on the front of the teeth holding them in place.  This type of retainer can be adjusted by your orthodontist to make it tighter or looser if required.

Hawley Orthodontic Retainer

Essix retainer – or vacuum-formed retainers

This type of retainer is made from clear plastic and is almost invisible when worn.  Essix retainers look like Invisalign aligners.  Essix retainers are removable so the teeth can easily be cleaned.  A disadvantage of Essix retainers is that they can become stained.

Essix Orthodontic Retainer

It’s usually recommended that you don’t eat or drink anything other than water while wearing these.  Strong colored foods like curry can stain the retainers.  As these retainers are only made of thin plastic, they tend to wear out after a few years.  Unlike Hawley retainers, Essix retainers can’t be adjusted.

Fixed retainer – also called a lingual retainer or lingual wire

These retainers are permanently attached behind the front teeth.  They are cemented onto the front six teeth.  They are often worn for a few years or indefinitely.  The main advantage of these retainers is that they can’t be removed so they are great for people who are forgetful with wearing removable retainers.

Fixed Lingual Retainer - image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The only difficulty with fixed retainers is that it is difficult to clean the teeth where the retainer is attached.  Special types of brushes and floss are required to clean effectively around the wires. If the area is not cleaned properly the teeth and gums can be affected.  Sometimes the wire can irritate the tongue.  If this happens, the wax may need to be worn.


Retainers need to be worn as per your orthodontist’s instructions.  Your orthodontist will recommend what type of retainer is best for you and also how long you will need to wear them from.  It is very important to strictly adhere to any instructions given regarding orthodontic retainers in order to prevent your teeth from drifting from their new positions.  Your orthodontist will also instruct you on the best way to clean your retainers and your teeth.  Regular checkups with your dentist are also very important while undergoing orthodontic treatment.  X-rays are commonly done following the removal of braces to check for decay.  Professional cleans with your dentist or hygienist are also very important while wearing retainers.

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