Retainers and Retention

Orthodontic Retainers in Harrow

Once your teeth are straight and your appliances have been removed you need a period of ‘retention’ to keep your teeth in their new positions. This is because teeth, gums and bone need time (at least several months) to adapt and settle after the active forces from the braces (or other appliances) have been removed.

During this time your teeth are held passively by retainers to prevent them moving out of line again (relapsing). Some teeth are more prone to relapse than others after treatment, particularly teeth which started off very twisted or very out of line, or where there were large gaps between teeth at the beginning.
Most retainers take the form of clear plastic shields (Essix retainers) which should be worn every night for at least a year.

Our private patients are also offered hidden fixed retainers consisting of invisible wires attached behind the front teeth and thus providing the extra security of full-time retention.
Our standard recommendations for removable retainer wear are:

  • Full-time for 1-2 days except for eating, drinking and toothbrushing
  • Every night for one year
  • 3-4 nights per week thereafter gradually reducing frequency of wear depending on fit and tightness and the advice of your orthodontist

Some people’s teeth are more stable than others after treatment and it is impossible to accurately predict stability in any individual case. Also, it is natural for teeth to move and ‘settle’ slightly throughout life as a result of growth changes during the late teenage years, the development of wisdom teeth at the back of the mouth and the natural wear of tooth enamel over time.

With good care, clear plastic Essix retainers normally last 2-3 years, sometimes much longer. But if they are worn out, lost or broken, replacement retainers can always be made for you.

Fixed retainers should be checked regularly by a dental professional at least annually, but we will check your retainers as a matter of course as part of your overall treatment for the first year. Beyond that you are always come back to us (and many of our patients do) but your own dentist may also be happy to check your retainers for you.

If you think there is a problem with your fixed retainer please ensure that you wear your removable retainers every night and contact us for an appointment at your earliest opportunity.

Caring for your retainers

Essix and Hawley retainers

  • Rinse with cold water on removal and store in a dedicated plastic container kept with your toothbrush.
  • Brush with a toothbrush (toothpaste can be used but not essential) before wearing at night.
  • For extra cleanliness and freshness you can use a retainer cleaner such as ‘Retainer Brite’ on an occasional basis.

Fixed retainers

  • These should be brushed with your toothbrush and ideally a small-headed brush such as the type used to clean fixed braces. Pressing your toothbrush against the front of your teeth should allow some of the bristles to fit between your teeth.
  • Dental floss can be used but normal floss from a reel will only reach about halfway down the teeth as it will meet the retainer wire. Superfloss comes in cut lengths with a stiffened end so it can be threaded between your teeth on the gum side of the wire.
  • Alternatively you can use a water or air flosser.

You can download our patient care leaflets from the patient resources section.