Orthodontic retainers are custom-made devices that hold the teeth in their new positions, allowing the surrounding tissues and bones to stabilize and adapt to the changes. They play a crucial role in the final phase of orthodontic treatment. After the active phase, where braces or aligners are used to straighten the teeth and correct bite issues, retainers are essential for preserving the achieved results. At Washington Dental, we offer a comprehensive range of orthodontic retainers tailored to meet individual needs. Our expert orthodontists in Lomita can evaluate your unique orthodontic case and recommend the most suitable type of retainer for you.

The Purpose and Benefits of Retainers

After undergoing orthodontic treatment, whether it be braces, aligners, or other corrective measures, the last thing anyone wants is for their teeth to shift back to their original positions. This is where retainers come into play. Retainers are custom-made devices that play a vital role in maintaining the results achieved through orthodontic treatment.

The primary purpose of retainers is to hold the teeth in their newly aligned positions and prevent them from relapsing. Orthodontic treatment involves gradually moving the teeth to correct misalignments, overcrowding, and bite issues. However, after the active phase of treatment, when the braces or aligners are removed, the teeth are not yet fully stabilized in their new positions. Retainers provide the necessary support to keep the teeth in place while the surrounding gums, tissues, and bones adapt to these changes.

Below are some of the common benefits that retainers offer:

Preventing Relapse

The most significant benefit of retainers is that they help prevent relapse. Teeth have a natural tendency to shift back to their original positions, and without proper retention, all the progress achieved during orthodontic treatment can be lost. Retainers act as a safeguard, ensuring that your teeth stay in their corrected positions, maintaining your beautiful smile.

Stabilizing Jaw Alignment

Orthodontic treatment not only focuses on straightening the teeth but also aligning the jaws. Retainers play a crucial role in stabilizing the corrected jaw alignment. They help the jaws adapt to the new position of the teeth and ensure that the bite remains stable and functional.

Preserving Dental Investments

Orthodontic treatment requires time, effort, and financial investment. Retainers help protect this investment by preserving the results achieved through treatment. Wearing retainers as recommended by your orthodontist ensures that you enjoy the long-term benefits of your orthodontic journey.

Enhancing Comfort

While it may take some time to adjust to wearing retainers, they ultimately contribute to overall comfort. Retainers help the teeth settle into their corrected positions, reducing any discomfort that may arise from teeth shifting or misalignment. They also help alleviate any tension or pressure that can occur due to natural dental movements.

Improving Oral Health

Retainers, particularly removable ones, promote good oral hygiene. Since removable retainers can be easily taken out, brushing and flossing become more accessible, allowing for thorough cleaning of the teeth and gums. This helps maintain oral health and reduces the risk of dental issues such as cavities and gum disease.

Customized to Fit Your Needs

Retainers are custom-made to fit your unique dental structure. They are designed based on impressions or digital scans of your teeth, ensuring a perfect fit. This customization ensures maximum effectiveness and comfort during wear.


Retainers come in various types, providing options that cater to individual needs. Removable retainers are popular for their convenience, allowing wearers to remove them for specific occasions or during meals. Fixed retainers, bonded to the back of the teeth, provide continuous support without the need for removal.

Types of Retainers

There are various types of retainers available, each offering unique features and benefits. Let’s explore the different types of retainers commonly used in orthodontics.

Hawley Retainers

Hawley retainers are one of the most common types of retainers. They consist of a molded acrylic base that fits against the roof of the mouth or behind the lower teeth. A wire component, usually made of stainless steel, extends across the front of the teeth, providing support and maintaining their alignment. Hawley retainers can be adjusted for minor tooth movements and are removable for eating, brushing, and flossing.

Clear Plastic Retainers

Clear plastic retainers, often referred to as Essix retainers, are popular due to their discreet appearance. They are made of transparent, thin plastic material that covers the entire arch of teeth, similar to aligners. Clear retainers are custom-made to fit snugly over the teeth, providing stability and preventing relapse. They are removable and require proper care to prevent discoloration and distortion.

Fixed Bonded Retainers

Fixed bonded retainers, also known as permanent or lingual retainers, are affixed to the back of the teeth using a thin wire. They are made of stainless steel or flexible composite material. Fixed retainers provide continuous support, as they are permanently bonded to the teeth. They are not visible when smiling and eliminate the need for regular removal and insertion. However, they require thorough oral hygiene practices to prevent plaque buildup.

Combination Retainers

In some cases, orthodontists may recommend a combination of removable and fixed retainers to maximize effectiveness. This approach involves placing a fixed bonded retainer on the lower teeth, which are more prone to shifting, and providing a removable retainer for the upper teeth. Combination retainers offer the benefits of both types and ensure comprehensive retention of the entire dental arch.

Palatal Expanders

Palatal expanders are a specialized type of retainer used to correct narrow palates or crossbites. They consist of a metal framework that spans across the roof of the mouth, applying gentle pressure to gradually widen the arch. Palatal expanders are fixed and adjusted by an orthodontist. Once the desired expansion is achieved, a removable retainer may be recommended to maintain the results.

It's important to note that the type of retainer recommended for each individual will depend on their specific orthodontic needs and treatment plan. Orthodontists will assess factors such as teeth alignment, bite correction, and patient preferences when determining the most suitable retainer type.

How Retainers Work to Maintain Teeth Alignment

Here is how retainers work to maintain teeth alignment:

Stabilizing the Soft Tissues

When your teeth are moved during orthodontic treatment, the surrounding soft tissues, including the gums and the periodontal ligament, need time to adapt to the new position. Retainers provide a supportive structure that allows these tissues to stabilize and firmly hold the teeth in place.

Encouraging Bone Remodeling

Teeth movement during orthodontic treatment involves reshaping the bone around the roots of the teeth. However, it takes time for the bone to fully remodel and adapt to the new tooth positions. Retainers help maintain the alignment while the bone undergoes this remodeling process, reducing the risk of teeth shifting.

Preventing Muscle and Lip Tension

Retainers also help prevent muscle and lip tension from affecting the position of the teeth. The muscles and lips can exert pressure on the teeth, causing them to shift or become misaligned. Retainers provide a barrier that minimizes these external forces, ensuring the teeth remain in their corrected positions.

Guiding Erupting Teeth

In some cases, retainers are used to guide erupting permanent teeth into their proper positions. By applying gentle pressure on the developing teeth, retainers can help guide them into alignment, reducing the need for further orthodontic intervention.

When and How Long to Wear Retainers

Wearing retainers as prescribed by your orthodontist is crucial for maintaining the results of your orthodontic treatment. The specific duration and frequency of retainer wear will vary depending on individual factors and treatment plans. Here are some general guidelines on when and how long to wear retainers:

Immediate Post-Treatment Period

After the active phase of orthodontic treatment, such as braces or aligners, your orthodontist will provide specific instructions on when to start wearing retainers. In most cases, retainers are worn immediately after the removal of braces or aligners to prevent the teeth from shifting back. Follow your orthodontist's advice on when to begin wearing retainers.

Full-Time Wear

During the initial phase of retention, it is common to wear retainers on a full-time basis. This means wearing them throughout the day and night, except when eating, brushing, or flossing. Full-time wear ensures that the teeth remain in their corrected positions and allows the surrounding tissues to adapt properly. Typically, full-time wear lasts for several weeks to a few months, depending on your orthodontist's recommendation.

Gradual Transition to Nighttime Wear

After the initial full-time wear period, your orthodontist may advise transitioning to nighttime wear. This means wearing your retainers only while you sleep. Nighttime wear is crucial for long-term retention and helps maintain the stability of your teeth' alignment. Your orthodontist will specify the duration of nighttime wear, which can range from several months to a few years.

Long-Term Retention

Even after the transition to nighttime wear, long-term retention is necessary to ensure the lasting results of your orthodontic treatment. Long-term retention involves wearing retainers at night, a few nights per week. The exact frequency will be determined by your orthodontist based on your specific needs and orthodontic history. Long-term retention may extend for several years or even indefinitely to prevent relapse.

Taking Care of Your Retainers: Cleaning and Maintenance Tips

Proper care and maintenance of your retainers are essential to ensure their longevity, effectiveness, and hygiene. Here are some important tips for cleaning and maintaining your retainers:

Clean your Retainers Daily

To keep your retainers clean and free from bacteria and plaque buildup, it is important to clean them daily. Rinse your retainers with warm water after removing them from your mouth to remove any debris or saliva. Use a non-abrasive, mild soap or a designated retainer cleaner to brush them gently. Avoid using toothpaste, as it can be too abrasive and may damage the retainers.

Avoid Hot Water

Hot water can distort or warp your retainers, so always use warm or lukewarm water for cleaning purposes. Exposing your retainers to hot water or leaving them in direct sunlight can cause them to lose shape and become less effective.

Use a Soft-bristle Toothbrush

When brushing your retainers, use a soft-bristle toothbrush or a specifically designed retainer brush. Brush gently to remove any plaque or residue. Be thorough in cleaning all surfaces, including the wires or clasps if applicable. Pay attention to hard-to-reach areas and ensure all debris is removed.

Soak your Retainers

Occasionally, it is beneficial to soak your retainers in a cleaning solution to eliminate bacteria and odors. There are various retainer cleaning products available in the market, including effervescent tablets or solutions specifically formulated for retainers. Follow the instructions provided with the cleaning product, as different solutions may have varying soaking times.

Avoid using Harsh Chemicals

Avoid using harsh chemicals or strong mouthwashes to clean your retainers, as they can damage the materials and affect their fit. Stick to mild cleaning solutions or those recommended by your orthodontist.

Handle your Retainers with Care

When handling your retainers, be gentle to avoid bending or damaging them. Avoid excessive twisting or bending, as this can lead to distortion or breakage. If your retainers feel loose or uncomfortable, contact your orthodontist for an evaluation and possible adjustment.

Keep your Retainers in a Protective Case

When you are not wearing your retainers, store them in a clean, protective case. This helps prevent damage, loss, or exposure to bacteria. Make sure the case is properly ventilated to allow airflow, which helps prevent moisture buildup.

Keep Retainers away from Pets

Pets are often attracted to retainers due to their smell or texture. Keep your retainers out of reach of pets to prevent them from being chewed or damaged.

Attend Regular Orthodontic Appointments

Regularly scheduled appointments with your orthodontist are essential for monitoring your progress and ensuring the effectiveness of your retainers. Your orthodontist can check the fit of your retainers and make any necessary adjustments.

Potential Issues with Retainers and How to Address Them

Although retainers are essential for maintaining the results of orthodontic treatment, there may be certain issues that can arise with retainers. Here are some common problems and tips on how to address them:

Discomfort or Soreness

It is normal to experience some initial discomfort or soreness when wearing retainers, especially during the adjustment period. However, if the discomfort persists or becomes unbearable, it is important to consult your orthodontist. They can assess the fit of your retainers and make any necessary adjustments to improve comfort.

Poor Fit or Looseness

If your retainers become loose or do not fit properly, it is crucial to contact your orthodontist. Ill-fitting retainers may not provide adequate support to maintain the position of your teeth. Avoid wearing loose retainers, as this can lead to teeth shifting or relapse. Your orthodontist can evaluate the fit and either adjust the retainers or provide you with a new set if needed.

Damage or Breakage

Retainers can be damaged or broken due to various reasons, such as accidental drops or chewing on them. If you notice any cracks, fractures, or breakage in your retainers, contact your orthodontist immediately. They will assess the damage and recommend appropriate solutions, such as repair or replacement of the retainers.

Discoloration or Odor

Retainers can develop discoloration or unpleasant odor over time due to bacteria buildup. Regular cleaning and maintenance can help prevent this issue. If discoloration or odor persists even after proper cleaning, consult your orthodontist. They may recommend specific cleaning techniques or provide professional cleaning to restore the appearance and freshness of your retainers.

Misplacement or Loss

Retainers are small and can be easily misplaced or lost, especially when not properly stored. Always keep your retainers in their protective case when not in use to minimize the risk of misplacement. If your retainers are lost, contact your orthodontist as soon as possible. Delaying replacement can result in teeth shifting or relapse.

Allergic Reactions

In rare cases, some individuals may experience allergic reactions to the materials used in their retainers. If you notice any unusual symptoms, such as excessive irritation, itching, or swelling, discontinue wearing the retainers and consult your orthodontist. They can assess the situation and recommend alternative materials or options to address the allergic reaction.

Inadequate Retention

If you notice any signs of teeth shifting or relapse despite wearing your retainers as instructed, it is important to contact your orthodontist. They can evaluate the situation and determine if adjustments to the retainer plan are necessary. In some cases, a new set of retainers or additional treatment may be required to ensure adequate retention.

Tips for Adjusting to Wearing Retainers

Adjusting to wearing retainers can take some time and may initially feel uncomfortable or unfamiliar. Here are some tips to help you adapt to wearing retainers more easily:

Follow your orthodontist's instructions: It's important to carefully follow the instructions provided by your orthodontist regarding the wear schedule and duration of your retainers. Adhering to their guidance will ensure optimal results and a smoother transition.

Start Gradually

If your orthodontist advises full-time wear initially, consider starting with shorter periods and gradually increasing the duration. This can help your mouth and tongue adjust to the presence of the retainers more comfortably.

Practice Speaking

Wearing retainers may temporarily affect your speech, causing a slight lisp or difficulty pronouncing certain sounds. Practice speaking out loud, reading aloud, and having conversations to help your mouth and tongue adapt to the retainers. With time, your speech will become more natural.

Expect Increased Saliva Flow

Initially, wearing retainers can trigger an increase in saliva production. This is a normal response as your mouth adjusts to the presence of the retainers. Swallow frequently and allow your mouth to adjust naturally over time. The excess saliva production will subside as you get used to wearing retainers.

Take Breaks if Needed

If you feel discomfort or soreness during the adjustment period, it's acceptable to remove your retainers temporarily. However, ensure you still meet the recommended daily wear time as prescribed by your orthodontist. Gradually increase the duration of wear and aim to reach the desired wear schedule over time.

Be Patient

It takes time for your mouth and oral structures to adapt to wearing retainers. Be patient and give yourself time to adjust. Remember that any initial discomfort or awkwardness will diminish as you become accustomed to wearing them consistently.

Frequently Asked Questions about Orthodontic Retainers

Below are some of the frequently asked questions about retainers.

Can I Eat or Drink while Wearing Retainers?

It is best to remove your retainers before eating or drinking (except water). Food particles can get trapped between the retainers and your teeth, increasing the risk of decay or plaque buildup. Additionally, certain foods and beverages may stain or damage the retainers.

Can I play Sports while Wearing Retainers?

For most sports or activities that carry a risk of injury, it is recommended to remove your retainers and wear a mouthguard instead. Mouthguards provide better protection for your teeth and reduce the risk of damaging the retainers. Consult your orthodontist for specific recommendations based on your situation.

How Often Should I Visit My Orthodontist while Wearing Retainers?

Regular follow-up appointments with your orthodontist are important to monitor your progress and the stability of your teeth alignment. Your orthodontist will determine the frequency of these appointments based on your specific needs.

Can Retainers Fix Minor Relapse or Shifting of Teeth?

In some cases, minor relapse or shifting of teeth can be corrected by wearing retainers as prescribed. However, it's important to consult your orthodontist for an evaluation and personalized recommendation. They may suggest additional orthodontic treatment options if necessary.

Find an Orthodontist Near Me

From stabilizing the soft tissues, guiding erupting teeth, and preventing muscle and lip tension, retainers play a vital role in preserving the alignment achieved through orthodontic treatment. At Washington Dental in Carso, we provide individualized retention plans, guiding patients on when and how long to wear retainers. We also offer support and guidance for patients adjusting to wearing retainers, addressing any discomfort or concerns that may arise during the transition period. Call us today at 310-217-1507 to schedule an appointment.