Frequently Asked Questions About Tooth Retainers

Ever finished a good book and wished for a sequel? 

Think of dental retainers as the much-awaited sequel to braces. 

After all that time spent straightening and perfecting, retainers are here to ensure the story of your stunning smile continues flawlessly!

What are Tooth Retainers?

After you’ve spent time, effort, and discomfort with braces or other orthodontic treatments to get that million-dollar smile, you don’t just want to let those teeth go wild and move back to their old, crooked ways, right? That’s where retainers come into play.

Tooth retainers are custom-made devices, usually crafted from clear plastic or wires, designed to ensure that your teeth stay in their newly acquired position, giving you a reason to flash that gorgeous smile for years to come!

What are the 3 Types of Removable Tooth Retainers?

Hawley Retainers

The Hawley retainer is designed to fit the shape of your mouth. The wire goes across the front of your teeth, while the acrylic part sits snugly against the roof of your mouth or along the inner surface of your lower teeth. 

The cool thing about Hawley retainers is that they’re adjustable, so if your teeth decide to play musical chairs, your orthodontist can tweak the retainer to get them back in line.

Essix Retainers

Essix retainers are like the undercover agents of the retainer world. They’re made of clear plastic, making them almost invisible when you’ve got them on. Picture a thin, see-through mouthguard custom-made to snugly fit over your teeth. No flashy metal, no bulky material, just a sleek and discreet guard keeping your teeth in check.

While they’re super stealthy and fantastic for patients who aren’t into the metal-wire look of traditional retainers, Essix retainers do have a lifespan. Depending on how well you take care of them, they might need replacing every couple of years.

Vivera Retainers

Vivera retainers are the VIPs of the clear retainer universe. They come into play after Invisalign does its job straightening out those pearly whites.

What makes Vivera stand out from the crowd? For starters, they’re made using the same state-of-the-art tech behind Invisalign. This means they’re a perfect fit, super comfortable, and up to 30% stronger than many other clear retainers on the market.

Also, Vivera retainers are clear, making them perfect for patients who care about their dental aesthetic. 

Plus, when you get Vivera retainers, you often get multiple sets. So, if one goes missing or your dog decides it’s their new chew toy, you’ve got backups.

Pros of Removable Tooth Retainers

  • Easier Cleaning: Unlike their fixed counterparts, you can simply pop removable retainers out, brush, rinse, and voila! They’re sparkling clean. Also, it means you can brush and floss your teeth without any metal getting in the way.
  • Food Freedom: Love popcorn or gooey caramel? You don’t have to give them up! Take your retainer out when eating, and you can munch on anything your heart desires!
  • Undercover Agent: Many removable retainers, especially the clear ones, are discreet. Most people won’t even notice you’re wearing one!
  • Break Time: Need a short break? Got a big event? You can just slide your retainer off for a short while. But don’t forget to put it back in, or your teeth will start moving around.
  • Dental Check-Ups are a Breeze: You can take your retainer off whenever you visit your dentist, which makes examinations and cleanings much more straightforward.

Cons of Removable Tooth Retainers

  • Easy to Lose: Removable retainers are easy to misplace. Leave them on a lunch tray? Wrap them in a napkin? They can easily get tossed out by mistake.
  • Breakage Risk: Accidents happen. Sit on it, step on it, or play with it too much, and your retainer can crack or snap. And then it’s off to the orthodontist for a new one.
  • Forgetting to Wear Them: Out of sight, out of mind. If it’s not glued to your teeth, you might forget to pop your retainer back in after eating or brushing.
  • Potential for Less Control: Particularly stubborn teeth might need the constant pressure of a fixed retainer to stay in line.
  • Maintenance: Removable retainers require daily cleaning. If you slack off, they’ll build up all sorts of icky stuff, such as plaque.
  • Cost: Replacing lost or broken retainers can get a tad pricey over time.

What are the 2 Types of Permanent Tooth Retainers?

Bonded Lingual Retainers

First off, there’s the lingual retainer, a thin wire bonded directly to the back of your teeth, usually the lower front ones. It’s the James Bond of retainers — super stealthy, since it’s hidden behind your teeth.

Palatal Retainers

Palatal retainers are a mesh or acrylic plate attached to the upper palate, resembling a roof for your mouth. They might come with a wire running across the front upper teeth.

Pros of Permanent Tooth Retainers

  • Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Most permanent retainers are fixed behind the teeth, especially the lingual ones.
  • Forgetfulness-Proof: Unlike their removable cousins, there’s no way to forget or misplace permanent retainers. They’re always there, doing their job 24/7.
  • Consistent Pressure: Permanent retainers provide a constant force to keep your teeth in place. No breaks, no downtime — they’re the ultimate overachievers in the retainer world.
  • Low maintenance: Once they’re in, they’re in. You don’t need to pop your permanent retainer out before meals or worry about where to store it.
  • Long-Lasting: Permanent retainers hang around for years, sometimes even decades! They’re like that favorite pair of jeans that fits just right, year after year.
  • No Nightly Rituals: Permanent retainers just need a good brush and floss, and you’re golden.

Cons of Permanent Tooth Retainers

  • Tricky Cleaning: With a wire glued to the back of your teeth, flossing can be a bit of a challenge. You might need special flossers or a water flosser to get in between those tight spots.
  • Potential for Breakage: If you’re munching on something really hard, there’s a chance that the retainer could break.
  • Tongue Troubles: Some patients keep playing with the retainer using their tongue, especially in the beginning. It’s like a new toy for your tongue that can take some getting used to.
  • Speech Slip-Ups: Initially, you might sound like you’ve got a slight lisp or just came from the dentist. But, no worries, you’ll get the hang of your speech with a bit of practice.
  • Hidden Plaque Party: If you’re not thorough with your cleaning, plaque can build up around the retainer — an open invitation for cavities and gum problems.
  • Not for Everyone: Depending on the alignment and bite, some people might just not be ideal candidates for permanent retainers.

How Long Do Dental Retainers Last?

The traditional Hawley retainers can last a good few years, sometimes even up to a decade! On the other hand, clear plastic retainers will have a shorter lifespan. They’re more prone to wear and tear, especially if you grind your teeth at night or get into the habit of biting down on them.

The longevity of your retainer really boils down to how well you take care of it. Regular cleaning, keeping it safe in its case when not in your mouth, and avoiding exposing it to extreme temperatures will all add life to your retainer.

How Many Hours a Night Should I Wear My Retainer?

Your first retainer is akin to a full-time job for your mouth. Your orthodontist will likely recommend wearing it all day, every day, for a few months. That’s because your teeth will try to shift back to their old positions if not kept in check.

Fortunately, this 24/7 retainer plan doesn’t last forever. After this initial period, your orthodontist will give you the green light to switch to nighttime wear — around 8 hours a night should do the trick. Some patients might need to stick strictly to the 8-hour rule for a long time, while others might enjoy more flexibility after a few years.

What are the Results of Not Wearing Your Retainer?

First, your teeth will take a trip down Memory Lane and start returning to their original positions. It’s like how your hair always goes back to its natural state, no matter how much you straighten or curl it.

Then, there’s the potential for bite issues. If your teeth start shifting, they might not meet properly when you chew or talk. This can lead to a range of orthodontic issues, from chewing difficulties to jaw pain.

Let’s say you notice your teeth have moved a smidge, so you panic and pop your retainer back in. If you’ve skipped wearing it for too long, at that point, your retainer might not fit anymore. Worst case scenario? You could end up needing braces or some form of treatment all over again. It’s like skipping gym sessions for months and then expecting to lift the same weight you used to — not going to happen without some effort!

And lastly, not wearing your retainer will cost you — in terms of both time and money. Going back to the orthodontist for adjustments or a new game plan? That’s more appointments, more adjustments, and more money out of your pocket.

Why Does My Retainer Hurt?

  • Not Wearing It Consistently: If you haven’t been wearing your retainer as much as you’re supposed to, your teeth might have shifted a tad.
  • It’s Brand New: If you’ve just got your braces off, and this is your first time with a retainer, your mouth and gums will need a minute to get used to it.
  • It’s Too Tight: Sometimes, if your teeth have shifted, your orthodontist will adjust your retainer to be slightly tighter. It’s like when you tighten your belt after a big meal — it’s doing its job while being slightly uncomfortable.
  • Broken or Bent: If you accidentally sat on it or your dog thought it was a chew toy, there’s a chance your retainer might be out of shape, causing discomfort.
  • Gum Issues: If you have inflamed gums or other dental issues, wearing a retainer can feel like rubbing salt into the wound.
  • Growing Pains: For the children and teens out there, continuous tissue growth can make a previously comfortable retainer feel not so great anymore.

What Should I Do if My Retainer is Not Fitting Anymore?

First off, if your retainer is just a tad tight, it’s possible your teeth have shifted just a smidge. Try wearing it for shorter periods to ease back into it.

Now, if your retainer truly doesn’t fit or causes your pain, that’s a red flag. Your teeth might have moved back to their old positions. At this point, the best move is to call your orthodontist. They’ll give you the lowdown on whether you need a new retainer, some adjustments, or if there’s another plan to get your teeth back on track.

Remember, if you’ve had a little “retainer hiatus”, it’s essential to get back in the groove sooner rather than later. The longer you wait, the more your teeth might have moved, and the harder it will be to get them back in line.

Can a Tight Retainer Damage My Teeth?

While a smidge of tightness from your retainer is to be expected, a lot of it isn’t. If you’re feeling more than just mild discomfort — think pain or excessive pressure — that’s your cue to call your orthodontist. Wearing an excessively tight retainer can damage your teeth or their roots, leading to serious dental issues down the road.

Can I Wear a Retainer With a Fake Tooth?

It’s entirely possible to wear a retainer with a fake tooth. However, with a caveat.

Wearing a dental implant, which is securely anchored in your jaw, is like having a regular tooth. A retainer shouldn’t cause any issues with it.

But, if we’re talking about a dental bridge or a removable partial denture, things get a bit trickier. Fake teeth rely on neighboring teeth for support, and a retainer could dislodge them if it’s not designed with the fake tooth in mind.

Your orthodontist or dentist will guide you on the best way forward, whether that’s getting a custom-made retainer to accommodate your fake tooth or considering another option.

How Do I Clean My Retainer?

  • Lukewarm Water Rinse: Every time you take out your retainer, give it a good rinse under lukewarm water. Avoid hot water, though — it can warp your retainer!
  • Use a Soft Toothbrush: Grab a toothbrush (one specifically designed for your retainer) and gently scrub it. No need for toothpaste, as it may damage the retainer.
  • Dish Soap: Use a gentle cleaner that rids the retainer of any lingering bacteria. Just make sure to thoroughly rinse your retainer afterward.
  • Soaking Solutions: Drop one retainer cleaning tablet in a glass of water, let your retainer soak, and voila! You’ve got a clean retainer.
  • Avoid Harsh Chemicals: Things like bleach or alcohol-based mouthwashes are a big no-no for retainer cleaning. They can damage your retainer, and might not be too healthy for you, either.
  • Vinegar & Water Solution: If you notice a white build-up on your retainer, soak it in a half-vinegar, half-water solution. Let it sit for about 20 minutes, then gently brush and rinse.
  • Keep It Dry: Let your retainer air-dry when you’re not wearing it. But first, make sure it’s clean. Storing a wet retainer will create a breeding haven for bacteria.

What is the Cost of a Tooth Retainer?

The cost of your retainer will vary widely based on several factors. 

First, it depends on your geographical location. Dental care is pricier in some cities or counties. But on average, you’re looking at anywhere between $100 to $800 (or even more) for one retainer.

Second, the price depends on the type of retainer. For example, Hawley retainers are on the lower end of the price spectrum. But if you’re going for a clear, invisible retainer, such as Essix or Vivera, you’ll be forking over more cash.

Also, if you’ve had your orthodontic treatment (like braces or Invisalign) done, some orthodontists might include the retainer as part of the treatment package.

But remember, while the initial cost might seem a bit hefty, it’s a worthy investment. Think of it as your ticket to maintaining your perfectly aligned smile after all that hard orthodontic work!

Can I Eat With My Retainer On?

Eating with your retainer in can lead to a couple of dental issues. 

First, food can get trapped between the retainer and your teeth. And we all know that’s an open invitation for bacteria to run amok, leading to cavities or other dental woes.

Second, chewing with your retainer on can actually damage it, especially if you’re indulging in  hard or crunchy foods. Your retainer might look tough, but it wasn’t built to withstand the forces of chomping down on caramel apples or a handful of popcorn.

Finally, let’s not forget about the potential for staining. Love that Spaghetti Bolognese or that beet salad? Eating such foods will stain your retainer, turning it into a less-than-ideal fashion statement.