Find An Orthodontist

How to 'retain' a brand new smile

Orthodontic treatment with braces or clear aligners will create a beautiful smile, but wearing retainers afterwards is what maintains and protects the smile into the future. Retainers are key to maintaining the success of orthodontic treatment over the long term. In fact, wearing retainers is equally as important as the orthodontic treatment itself!

A retainer is designed to keep the teeth where the previous braces/aligner treatment moved them.  For a retainer to properly maintain the results your investment deserves (and the beautiful straight smile your child or teenager desires) it must be worn according to the guidelines set by their orthodontist.

But let’s face it - getting kids and teenagers into the habit of wearing their retainer correctly and keeping it safe can be a challenge! Here’s all you need to know about the importance of retainers, alongside some tips for use and safe keeping.

The importance of a retainer
In a nutshell, retainers are custom-made orthodontic appliances that are designed to hold the teeth in their new positions after orthodontic treatment. If they are not worn as instructed by your orthodontist, the teeth will very rapidly begin to go crooked again.

It is vitally important for your child or teen to understand that it takes time for their mouth to ‘learn’ the new positioning of their teeth once their braces are removed. While some minor changes to the bite and tooth alignment post-treatment are normal, wearing a retainer for as long as your orthodontist recommends is the best way to ensure their teeth stay healthy and straight for years to come.

What type, and for how long?
There are two types of retainer – fixed and removable. Some patients are recommended a permanent fixed orthodontic retainer (a thin wire placed behind the front upper and/or lower teeth that it is completely invisible), while others are encouraged to wear their removable plastic orthodontic retainer for as long as possible. Some individuals may wear their removable retainer one or two nights a week long term, whereas others may need to wear their retainer nightly or every other night.

Faces, teeth and jaws are guaranteed to change as we age, but every person is unique. Therefore, only your orthodontist will be able to advise which type of retainer is right for your teen and how often and for how long they should be wearing it.

Tips for living with a removable retainer

·       Keep it safe: When the retainer is not being worn, it should always be kept safe in its container so it won’t be damaged or lost. Wrapping it in a napkin or tissue isn’t a good idea as it’s more likely to get lost or accidentally thrown away.

·       Clean it regularly: Retainers are exposed to the same bacteria and plaque as the rest of your mouth. Like teeth, they need to be cleaned (or at least rinsed) after every meal. Ensure your child cleans their retainer as they would their teeth, with a gentle brush. Retainers can also be soaked with a cleanser tablet or mouthwash to keep them fresh and germ-free – ask your orthodontist for a recommendation as to which brands are best to use.

·       Protect it from damage: Retainers are mostly plastic, and the two most common ways they can be damaged are from heat and from physical abuse. Retainers shouldn’t be placed in hot water, the dishwasher, washing machine, direct sunlight or near a heat source – they’ll easily warp. Caring for a retainer properly will ensure it lasts the distance!  

·       Know when to remove it: Retainers should always be removed before eating and toothbrushing as well as when swimming or playing sports.

·       Schedule regular retainer check-ups: And if the retainer starts to lose shape or isn’t fitting correctly, call your orthodontist immediately.  

Tips for living with a fixed retainer

·       Focus on hygiene: A fixed retainer can be a food/plaque trap, therefore it should be brushed twice daily, and flossed at least once daily. Your orthodontist will demonstrate how to do this properly on the day when the fixed retainer is fitted.

·       Protect it from damage: Just like braces, fixed retainers can break if you chew something hard, or if you pick it with your finger nails, toothpicks etc. Therefore, be mindful what you eat, and if possible, avoid foods that could potentially break or distort the retainer wire.

·       Call your orthodontist if something does not feel right: If the fixed retainer feels loose, or if you can feel something sharp, contact your orthodontist immediately.

·       Have it checked regularly: It is important to see your orthodontist for regular retainer checks. If you are no longer under the care of your orthodontist, then it’s important you see your dentist for your regular six monthly dental check-ups. Your orthodontist or dentist will be able to tell you if the fixed retainer is still functional, or if it needs to be repaired.

Although it can be tempting to neglect this final step, it’s important to work with your child or teen to ensure they understand the importance of wearing their retainer once their braces are removed. Wearing their retainer and caring for it properly will help ensure they keep their beautiful new smile for the rest of their life!

About this blog

The Australian Society of Orthodontists (ASO) is the peak body for Orthodontists and orthodontic knowledge across Australia.
Orthodontics Australia by the ASO, is the ASO’s public information and advice channel. Our blog and social media platforms have been designed to assist your research efforts and help you understand the difference between an orthodontist and a dentist, your orthodontic treatment options, the results you can expect and the journey along the way.
Of course, we can help you find registered orthodontists too with no referral needed! We hope you find this resource helpful and it gives you the confidence to take the next step in achieving the smile you’ve always wanted. If you’re unsure of where to find a registered orthodontist, check the Find An Orthodontist tool on the ASO website.