Retainers are an essential part of every Invisalign treatment. Without them, months and even years of dental work could go out the window with the teeth beginning to shift back to their original, incorrect position. Even in people who have never required orthodontic treatment such as Invisalign, teeth will naturally shift as the years go by. Sometimes it becomes noticeable but many times it does not. Because of this, retention of the orthodontic work is essential to ensure that the teeth do not shift out of their appropriate position. If you want to make sure that your teeth retain their appropriate position, retainers are beyond crucial. Several types of retainers are available, some of which are permanent and others removable.
The length for which you will be required to wear a retainer will naturally depend on the reason for your orthodontic treatment. For conditions such as gaps, rotated or twisted teeth, and open bites, retainers are usually more important as these problems have a high likelihood of re-occurrence. With issues such as these, retention methods are typically quite lengthy, often lasting a lifetime.
Types of Retainers
There are two basic kinds of retainers, those that are fixed and those that are removable. Fixed retainers, as the name suggests, are retainers that are permanently attached to the teeth. Removable retainers, on the other hand, are able to be removed when desired. As with anything else, both removable and fixed retainers each have their own pros and cons that should be considered before deciding which option to go with.
After the Invisalign phase of the treatment is complete, the retention portion of the treatment begins, a phase that will typically last for a lifetime.
Fixed retainers, which are also referred to as “permanent” or “bonded” retainers, are bonded or attached to the teeth themselves as permanent fixtures in the mouth. For the most part, fixed retainers are formed by using a small wire that is placed on the back of the bottom front teeth. The same procedure can be used on the upper teeth as well, although this is less common due to the fact that the bite of the patient often makes this impossible.
On one hand, permanent retainers often do a great job. Because they are permanently affixed in the mouth, the success of the process doesn’t rely on the compliance of the patient. No one has to worry about losing the retainer or forgetting to put it in because it will always be there.
Despite this, there is a distinct disadvantage to permanent retainers as well and this is the difficulty many patients have in cleaning their teeth under the retainer. With permanent retainers, both brushing and flossing can be a big challenge. A certain amount of manual dexterity and perseverance is required to maintain healthy dental hygiene while wearing a permanent retainer. And, of course, if brushing and flossing are neglected, tartar and plaque will inevitably accumulate. If this is allowed to happen, the patient becomes a great risk for additional issues such as gum disease.
When it comes to flossing in patients who have fixed retainers, a floss threader is almost always a necessity. A floss threader allows the patient to properly position the floss where needed beneath the wire and between each tooth.
Just as with the fixed appliances, removable retainers also have their own advantages and disadvantages.
Acting as both a pro and a con, removable retainers are just that: removable. When flossing, brushing, or eating, the retainer can be removed and then put back in place when the activity is over. While this can increase ease of eating and dental hygiene, it also means that the retainer is more likely to be lost or just not worn. And a retainer that isn’t worn can’t do its job.
Another potential issue with removable retainers is that they can cause excess salivation, particularly at the beginning of wear. Having things in our mouth typically means we are eating, which causes the mouth to salivate. While this doesn’t have a detrimental effect on oral health, it can be frustrating.
When it comes to removable retainers, there are two basic choices. The first is the Hawley retainer and the other is the Essix or Vivera retainer. Removable retainers are by far the most popular with both dentists and patients.
Hawley retainers consist of clasps and wires embedded in a plastic body which typically covers either the bottom teeth or the roof of the patient’s mouth. The clasps serve to grasp the required teeth so as to anchor the retainer in the appropriate position.
Hawley retainers are adjustable so that, if shifting occurs, alterations can be made to push the teeth back so that they are correctly positioned. They are very sturdy but are typically unpopular, particularly with patients, as they are very obvious in the mouth. Additionally, the thickness of the retainer may cause speech interference.
Essix or Vivera Retainers
Essix and Vivera retainers are clear, tightly fitting retainers that are specifically cast for the teeth of the patient. They are very similar in appearance to the aligners used in Invisalign but are, instead, worn for extended periods of time as opposed to be replaced every two weeks.
Invisalign patients often find that using Vivera retainers, which are the brand of Essix retainers developed by the maker of Invisalign, is the best choice for them. Unlike Hawley retainers, Vivera retainers are fairly invisible.
Essix and Vivera retainers are, however, more delicate than Hawley retainers. They are more likely to develop holes or crack, particularly in people who grind their teeth or bite down with excessive force. As such, these retainers should be examined on a regular basis to ensure that they are in good condition.
These retainers are also unable to be adjusted once they are created. They cannot be used to readjust teeth if shifting occurs.
Regardless of which retainer is chosen by your dentist and yourself, the crux of the matter is that retention is a crucial aspect of any Invisalign treatment. Without it, you would have to go back to square one and start potentially years of orthodontic work from the beginning. Protect your investment; use a retainer!