LAST UPDATED: JANUARY 24, 2017
Braces and retainers are two of the methods used by dentists and orthodontists to correct a misaligned bite or teeth that are crooked. But despite their similar nature and purpose, there are significant differences between the two devices and how they work. While retainers are sometimes used to correct slight imperfections of alignment without braces, braces are never used unless they are followed by the use of a retainer. Typically, braces are used to straighten the patient’s teeth, and retainers are used to maintain the corrected position.
How do braces work?
If the teeth are significantly misaligned, dental specialists will usually use braces to gradually shift the patient’s teeth in the desired direction over an extended period of time. Braces are individually designed for the patient and may be constructed with wires, bands, and other corrective devices. These devices may be removable or fixed, depending on the specific needs of the patient. In the most severe cases, they may be augmented with headgear or some other external device. Braces will cause the bone, muscle, and gum structure of the patient’s jaw to change over time, and as a result, they will require frequent adjustment to compensate for these changes. During this time frame, monthly visits to the dentist are not unusual. They will adjust the bands, springs or wires of the braces, and will check to make sure that the process is working as intended.
Braces are generally worn for a period of one to three years depending on the severity of the problem, the amount of space required for the correction, and the patient’s overall dental health. Due to the complexity of their design, they cannot be removed or adjusted by the patient.
Invisalign is a recent improvement to traditional braces. Made of a medical grade transparent plastic, they are custom-fitted to the individual patient and are much less noticeable than braces. Until the desired correction is achieved, Invisalign aligners are changed every 2 weeks because, this is because they are not adjustable.
How does a retainer work?
Following the successful straightening of the teeth, your orthodontist will remove the braces or aligners and thoroughly clean the teeth. At this time, the decision to take a fresh set of x-rays and impressions to make sure that the original condition has been corrected. They will also check to see if the patient is developing wisdom teeth, as these may put unexpected pressure on the newly straightened teeth. In most instances, any developing wisdom teeth will be removed.
The patient will be provided with a custom-made retainer which must be worn to prevent the teeth from shifting back to their original, flawed positions. Some retainers are removable, and some are not. Most often, a retainer must be worn continuously for a period of 6 months or more following the removal of the aligners or braces. These can be required overnight for a longer period of time. In many cases, retainers are necessary while sleeping for many years following the removal of braces.
Why do teeth shift after braces?
To some extent, the success and longevity of the entire process depend’s on how well the patient follows the instructions of his or her dental health professional. Understandably, many patients are excited to finally have their braces removed and are eager to show off their new smile. As a result, they may decline to wear their retainer as instructed, and this could result in the teeth beginning to shift back into an abnormal position. The time immediately following the removal of the braces is the most critical time of all. This is when the bone has not completely hardened into its new shape and is why a retainer is such a critical part of the process. All too often, years of effort and expense are wasted by an improper follow-up to the straightening procedure.
Can a retainer correct this shift?
In theory, it may be possible for a retainer alone to correct this shift. In fact, retainers are occasionally used without braces to straighten teeth with a small degree of irregularity. But in order for retainers to do their job without causing damage to the teeth, they must fit perfectly, as they did when the braces were first removed. Unlike braces, retainers cannot be adjusted. By the time a patient who has had their braces removed notices a shift in the position of their teeth it is usually too late. At that point, wearing the retainer may, in fact, prove uncomfortable at best. In the worst cases, it will cause damage to the patient’s teeth.
Even if the patient is able to wear the retainer without any discomfort, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the teeth will be restored to their corrected position by the retainer alone. Damage to teeth in the process is inevitable. The only person qualified to make this determination is a qualified orthodontist.
Choosing a specialist
While many dentists may offer basic alignment and orthodontic services, orthodontists are specialists in correcting misaligned and irregular teeth. Dr. Joel Gluck is a board-certified orthodontist with over 30 years of experience perfecting smiles. Additionally, He has been recognized by Invisalign as a top 1% Elite Preferred Provider for his extensive experience with this innovative alternative to cumbersome braces.
To find out more or to discuss your dental care options, make an appointment. You can call (615) 269-5903 or schedule an appointment with Gluck Orthodontics today!
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