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A woman holding retainers and smiling in front of a desk mirror.A woman holding retainers and smiling in front of a desk mirror.

Are Teeth Retainers Necessary After Dental Aligners?

By: BeSeen Team

Date: July 21, 2023

So, you’ve completed ClearCorrect aligner therapy – what’s next? Most patients will need to wear teeth retainers immediately after to maintain their new smile. They’re an extra precaution against relapse from factors like ageing. The type of retainers, duration of treatment, and other considerations vary. 

As always, it’s best to consult with your treating doctor to determine the ideal plan for your situation. But first, learn how retainers help, what options are available, and answers to common maintenance questions.  

The Importance of Wearing Retainers After Aligners

A woman with straight, white teeth smiling.
Retainers apply gentle pressure on teeth to keep them in their corrected position.

Before jumping into this new phase of your oral care journey, it helps to know what retainers are for. As their name suggests, these custom orthodontic devices retain the teeth’s new alignment. Here’s how they can help you:

  • They safeguard against post-treatment shifting and help ensure your investment won’t go to waste.  
  • Retainers also provide stability, so the teeth and surrounding tissues can more easily adapt to their corrected positions. As the Australian Society of Orthodontists (ASO) explains, “It takes time for a mouth to ‘learn’ the new positioning of their teeth once braces are removed.”
  • Retainers enable the adaptation process while the supportive structures adjust.
  • Retainers exert gentle, consistent pressure on the dentition, similar to aligners or braces.

Their main differences between retainers and aligners lie in the treatment approach and duration. The latter moves teeth to their ideal position, while the former keeps them in place once aligned. On average, aligner therapy can last anywhere from six months to a few years. Meanwhile, retainers may need to be worn for much longer – in some cases, forever. 

Main Types of Dental Retainers  

A woman putting on Hawley retainers.
You can choose between removable or permanent retainers.

There are two general types of retainers: 1) permanent, and 2) removable. You have multiple options within each category, depending on your needs. Here’s a brief overview. 

Removable 

Removable retainers can be incredibly convenient, especially if you’re diligent about proper storage and wear time. You can take them out during mealtimes, cleaning, and risky activities, like sports.   

Examples include Hawley retainers, which consist of a thin metal wire and a custom-fitted, moulded acrylic base. The wire wraps around the front of the teeth for support, while its base sits against the roof of the mouth or the tongue side of the lower teeth. 

There are also clear retainers, which look strikingly like clear aligners. They have the same discreet, barely visible appearance. Unlike wired retainers, they fully cover the teeth, including chewing surfaces. They may also be easier to acquire if you’ve used ClearCorrect as your doctor can use the intra-oral scan from the beginning of your treatment. 

Permanent 

Permanent retainers are also known as fixed, lingual, or bonded retainers. They stay in place with dental adhesive, so you never have to worry about losing them. They consist of wires that adhere to the backs of the teeth, preventing relapses through continuous support. They’re also invisible from the front.   

Professor Dr James Mah, Interim Dean of the School of Dental Medicine at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and former Chief Technology Officer of ClearCorrect (a Straumann Group brand), recommends this option for patients who desire more effortless maintenance (no need to keep track of them!). He also encourages their use for those with significant relapse factors, like generalised spacing, tongue thrusting, and deep bites.

Teeth Retainers: Frequently Asked Questions  

A hand soaking Hawley retainers in a bowl of cleaning liquid.
Ask your orthodontist for tips on wearing retainers, caring for them, and more.

Now that you know more about retainers and how they fit into your alignment journey, you may have a few follow-up questions. These answers should provide more clarity and ease dental anxieties. For more complex concerns, your treating doctor will know best. 

1. How long do you wear retainers after ClearCorrect?

Are you wondering, “Do I need to wear retainers forever?” According to Dr Mah, “One common recommendation is full-time wear for about 12 months and night-time wear in the following years.” But he emphasises that duration can differ from patient to patient.

Those with mild to moderate malocclusion may require less time. Meanwhile, those with significant relapse factors may need to keep their retainers on for as long as they have natural teeth to maintain. 

2. How do you care for your retainers? 

Since retainers live in your mouth, they encounter the same bacteria and buildup as your teeth, gums, and tongue. Keep removable retainers hygienic and functional by rinsing them off after every meal and thoroughly cleaning them daily. Gargle with water before popping your retainers back in. 

The ASO cautions against toothpaste for cleaning as it can be too abrasive for the material. Instead, use hand soap and a soft brush. You can also soak them in an antibacterial appliance solution to keep them fresh. Remember to store them in their proper container when not in use. Lastly, avoid soaking them in hot water since high temperatures can warp the material. 

As for fixed retainers, you can clean the wires when you brush your teeth. Flossing becomes even more critical here since food particles can get stuck in the nooks and crannies of the device. So, don’t skip that step! Ask your treating doctor for tips to make the process easier. They may recommend using interdental brushes that clean hard-to-reach spaces between teeth. Also, avoid chewing anything too hard so as not to risk breakage.  

3. Do you still need to see your dentist for checkups? 

Yes, you’ll need to visit your dentist for regular checks. Aim to see them every six months. This will help them determine if your retainers are doing their job effectively or if the device needs refitting. Your dentist can also assess if your teeth are still in their correct position. If not, they may need to adjust your retainers. 

Are you still wondering if teeth retainers are necessary after clear aligners? The short answer is yes. There are very few cases where patients won’t need them at all. And besides, you wouldn’t want to risk your teeth becoming misaligned again! After all the time, effort, and money you put into improving it, you should do what you can to maintain your new smile. Work with your treating doctor to determine the best post-aligner maintenance plan for you! 

References: 

Australia, O. (2022, August 6). Orthodontic Retainers For Teeth: Fixed And Removable Types. Orthodontics Australia. 

Australia, O. (2022, November 24). What Is the Best Way to Clean a Retainer? Orthodontics Australia. 

Summers, J. (2021). Types of Retainers. ClearCorrect Help Center. Retrieved June 13, 2023.

Summers, J. (2022). Retainers and Retention. ClearCorrect Help Center. Retrieved June 13, 2023.

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