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Do I Need To Wear Retainers Forever?

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Medically reviewed by: Dr Anthony Lam BDS (Hons), MSc (Lond), MOrth RCS (Edin) Specialist Orthodontist and Clinical Lecturer at Guy's Hospital, London.

11th October 2022

by Orthodontic Gallery on OrthodonticsBraces, Retainers & Brace Care and Children’s Orthodontics


At Orthodontic Gallery our advice is, that you must wear your retainers for as long as you want straight teeth.

Over time and with the addition of fixed bonded retainers you may wear your removable retainers less often. But, we will never advise you to stop wearing your retainers completely.

What Is A Retainer?

Retainers are fixed or removable devices, made of wires or plastic that are used to maintain the finished result of active Orthodontic treatment and keep your smile perfectly aligned.

What types of removable retainers are there?

The two main types of removable retainer are, the Essix and the Hawley.

Essix are made entirely of transparent plastic, which makes them less noticeable than traditional wire retainers and more comfortable to wear and sleep in.

Another benefit is that they encourage good dental hygiene; you can them out for brushing and flossing and clean the retainer itself at the same time! Unlike some wire retainers, an Essix covers the entire arch of the teeth much like an Invisalign aligner.

Your Essix retainer is unique to you, it is vacuum moulded to the shape of your mouth. 9 out of 10 of our patients will be given an Essix but 1 out of 10 will need or suit a Hawley retainer more.

Hawley retainers are an older, more traditional style retainer. It’s comprised of a plastic part that sits in the roof of your mouth or along the inside of your lower teeth, and an attached metal wire which runs across the outside of your teeth to maintain alignment.

The Hawley is more durable that an Essix and it can be repaired and adjusted if needed.

Another benefit of a Hawley is that they do not interfere with your bite, allowing your upper and lower teeth to touch naturally.

Some patients prefer them if they have a delicate gag reflex or they find having two thin layers of plastic between their teeth uncomfortable.

What about the fixed wires?

Fixed Bonded or Permanent Wires consist of a solid or braided wire that is curved to fit the shape of your newly straightened teeth.

The wire is bonded to the inside of your front teeth to keep them from moving. Most often used on lower teeth, they are also known as fixed lingual wire, or bonded retainers. They can only be removed by your orthodontist or dentist.

While they’re usually an optional extra, they are included as standard at Orthodontic Gallery. Placing them is our belt and braces approach to ensure your teeth have every chance to maintain their alignment.

They are most useful for patients that are forgetful (you know who you are, that’s okay lots of us skip a night or two of wear) or when we think the teeth are very likely to relapse.

Your dental hygienist will advise you on how to clean around them with interdental brushes, as you will not be able to floss past the fixed wire.

The majority of patients are able to keep them clean but, in some cases, they are removed because of excess buildup of plaque and tarter or gum irritation.

Will my teeth relapse?

Orthodontics works by remodeling the bone that your teeth sit in. The pressure from the brace causes your teeth to move and the bone that surrounds it to move and remodel too.

The remodeled bone is spongey because it’s new and hardens with time. Once we let go of the Orthodontic pressure (your active brace treatment) your teeth can want to move back to their natural position until the remodeled bone has secured its new position.

Therefore, you must have retention after active Orthodontics for as long as you want straight teeth.

The old advice is that 12 months of retention is enough for the teeth to be ‘set’ in their newly aligned position.

But time, research and experience has taught us that this is not the case. Teeth have the potential to relapse forever.

Even after your teeth are permanently in their new position, the effects of chewing, growth, and everyday wear can lead to relapse.

How often do you wear them?

Even with a bonded wire, you must wear your Essix or Hawley retainer every night for the first year.

We keep our patients under retention review for 2 years before we fully discharge them. This is to check you’re still wearing them, they still fit and that you’re still happy with your Orthodontic result.

We will see you after 3,6,15 and 24 months and we will advise you as to when you can reduce your wear to every other night, then 3 times a week. So, it’s important you attend your retention reviews and bring your retainers with you!

If you’re in need of new retainers or you need to book a review, then please don’t hesitate to call or book online. You can also find out more information about aftercare on our website.

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