Tooth Retainers

Tooth Retainers – The Straight Talking Truth

Posted by: Dr Monica Amin

The first thing to get straight (pun intended) is to identify what we mean about a tooth retainer. When you have orthodontics to have straight teeth you will typically have 2 devices:

  • An active device – this will move your teeth to their new position.
  • A passive device – this holds your teeth in the new position after the active device has done its work

People generally use the term ‘retainer’ interchangeably between an active and passive device however, this is not correct. A retainer is a passive device and holds your teeth in the new position after the orthodontic treatment has moved them from their original position.

Having said that, throughout this blog post we will use the term ‘retainer’ in the title of each section because this is how people often phrase their questions. This blog post is therefore dedicated to understanding more about active appliances (those types of orthodontics which move teeth) and retainers (passive devices which retain teeth).

Can my old retainer straighten back my teeth?

An old orthodontic appliance should never be used to try to straighten back teeth after they have moved. The science of orthodontics is very precise and any devices will be custom-made and designed to move teeth from a very specific location to a very specific new location. This means an old orthodontic appliance will not be designed in such a way so as to move teeth correctly and you may end up causing more harm than good.

What is the difference between Invisalign and braces?

In order to move teeth an orthodontic appliance needs to put pressure on a very specific part of the tooth in order to move, tip or rotate it. Invisalign and conventional braces use different ways of applying this pressure. Conventional braces are bonded to your teeth with brackets, metal wires are then suspended between these brackets. It is the tension in the wires that puts the pressure on the tooth. As your teeth move the pressure on them reduces from the wires and you need to go back to the orthodontist to have the wires tightened, this typically happens every 4-6 weeks.

Invisalign on the other hand uses clear aligner. The aligner itself is not under tension but it is designed in such a way so as to be slightly ill fitting and push teeth to a new location. As the teeth move the aligner becomes less and less effective and using have to replace the aligner with a new one, this typically happens every 2 weeks.

How long would it take to straighten my teeth with braces?

This really depends on the types of braces that you have. If you just want front teeth straightened this can often be achieved in around 7 weeks as front teeth have smaller roots and are quicker to move. Crooked teeth at the back of your mouth are often more difficult to move due to the larger roots so treatment often takes longer. This type of more complex orthodontics can often take up to 2 years to complete.

How much can retainers move teeth?

Retainers can’t move teeth at all as they are a passive device to retain teeth in their final resting place after orthodontic treatment. However the term retainers is often interchangeably used with a removable orthodontic appliance. Removable orthodontics can move teeth a considerable distance and can be extremely effective, however many orthodontists may prefer to use fixed orthodontics as this gives them more control. Fixed orthodontics generally tend to work quicker as there is no temptation to remove the appliance, however many patients prefer Invisalign as this treatment is completely clear and you can have  orthodontic braces with no one else knowing.

Why do teeth usually move after having braces?

Teeth will always find their natural place in your mouth. There is a very fine zone of pressure between your tongue pushing out and your cheeks pushing in, this is called the neutral zone. If your teeth are moved outside is neutral zone, which can happen with orthodontics, then the teeth can have a tendency to want to move back again once the braces are removed. This is why you need to wear your retainers permanently after having orthodontic treatment, particularly if your teeth have been moved out of the neutral zone.

Will I do any damage by forcing my retainer over my teeth?

Removable retainers can often feel quite tight, this is deliberate as they need to be close-fitting to keep your teeth in the required position. There are however different types of retainers, some have wires and some are bonded retainers (Fixed retainers) on the tongue side of your teeth. Removable retainers are often preferable as it makes it easier to brush your teeth and prevent gum disease after wearing braces. However, if you are struggling with one of the more common types of retainer we recommend you speak to your dentist or orthodontist who make them be able to suggest an alternative.

How long do you have to wear retainers?

It’s very important to wear your retainers for the exact length of time prescribed by your dentist or orthodontist. Fixed retainers will be worn permanently and can’t be removed, these usually fit on the inside (tongue side of your teeth). Removable retainers usually need to be worn for at least 12 hours per day overnight, typically the advice is to wear your retainers every night, indefinitely.

My clear retainer makes my gums bleed, what can I do?

If you have clear plastic retainers or a clear retainer passive appliance which makes your gums bleed, or is causing swollen gums then you should tell your dentist or orthodontist. Adjusting a clear retainer appliance is usually a very quick procedure when done by a professional, it can usually be done whilst you wait. Please do not attempt to adjust a retainer at home,  the material is very often very sensitive to heat and if you use the wrong device to adjust at home you may end up heating the retainer too much and warping it.

Dr Monica Amin

Principal dentist at Elizabeth Street Dentist
Dr Amin qualified in 2002. She has worked for a dental corporate in the past and currently works alongside a reputable cosmetic Belgravia dentist who was one of the first practitioners to perform Veneers in the UK and also can be described as a pioneer in Tooth Whitening. Dr Amin has developed a particular interest in cosmetic dentistry and has also gained an accreditation as an Invisalign practitioner and confidently provides treatment at several clinics serving the Belgravia, Victoria, Chelsea, Pimlico, Sloane Square and Knightsbridge areas of London.
Dr Monica Amin

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