On the day when braces come off, most people feel that their orthodontic treatment is over. When they are then asked to wear retainers, they may wonder what this additional requirement will accomplish. Wasn't the work of moving their teeth to desired positions already completed? To understand the answer to this question, you need to understand how orthodontics works.
Although they give the appearance of being stable and unmoving, teeth and their surrounding structures (gums, jawbones, and ligaments) are living tissues and are actually in a constant state of change.
Teeth are rooted in bone and are attached by a fibrous tissue called the periodontal ligament (from peri meaning around and odont meaning tooth). One side of the ligament attaches to the cementum (part of the tooth's root) and the other side is attached to the bone, with the tooth suspended in between.
These tissues are constantly remodeling themselves, but pressure from the lips and cheeks on one side and from the tongue on the other create a balance that keeps the teeth suspended in the same location. When mild forces are placed on the teeth, such as the forces from the wires used in orthodontic treatment, the tissues slowly adapt and rebuild, resulting in a new position for the teeth.
Orthodontic retainers are devices usually made of a clear plastic section that is fitted to the roof of the mouth, with thin wires that fit over the teeth.
The remodeling process keeps going after the orthodontic treatment stops, so time is needed for the teeth to reach a new balanced state. The retainer stabilizes them in their new position so that bone and ligament can reform around the teeth and hold them there. This works well for adolescents, whose jaws are in a state of growth, but adults may need outside assistance to stabilize their teeth for a longer time. They may be asked to wear retainers indefinitely to make sure their teeth do not move from their new positions.
If you don't wear your retainers, your teeth are likely to return to the positions they had prior to your orthodontic treatment. This can happen fairly rapidly, underscoring the importance of wearing retainers as instructed.
Most retainers are removable devices as described above. For people who require long-term use of retainers, thin retainer wires can be bonded to the inside surfaces of their front teeth. Such wires are usually left in place for several years, relieving them of the need to remove and replace their retainers.
Contact us today to schedule an appointment to discuss your questions about orthodontics and retainers. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Why Orthodontic Retainers?”
The much anticipated day has arrived: your child's braces have been removed. You are really happy with the way your son's or daughter's smile looks now. All the time, money, and discomfort of having teeth straightened have been well worth it.
But did you know that the teeth could relapse into their old positions if your child doesn't wear a retainer every night?
Why is wearing a retainer necessary?
It is important for both you and your child to understand the reason for wearing a retainer. It has to do with how orthodontia works in causing teeth to move to more satisfactory positions.
The reason that orthodontia (“ortho” – straight, “odont” – tooth) works is that the tissues holding teeth in place are living and keep remodeling themselves. Teeth are suspended in the jawbone by the periodontal ligament (“peri” – around, “odont” – tooth), which suspends the tooth by extending from the cementum of the tooth on one side into the bone on the other. Cementum is the thin layer of calcified tissue covering the dentin of the root. When light forces are placed on it, the periodontal ligament can reform itself and adapt to the pressures it is under.
Orthodontists know how to keep the pressures during orthodontic treatment light enough to cause movement that is slow and steady but not so strong that the tissues are damaged. If too much force is applied, the process can cause damage to the periodontal tissues and tooth roots.
When the teeth have moved to their desired positions, they will continue slowly moving. The purpose of a retainer is to stabilize the teeth in their “finished” position. They must be retained in this position long enough that the bone and ligament can completely re-form around them, a process that can take several months.
Make it clear to your child that a retainer won't have to be worn forever. Once your child understands that it is very important to wear the retainer for a few months in order to stabilize that attractive new smile, it should be easy to convince him or her to use it nightly.