Orthodontic retainers are custom-made, removable devices, worn to keep teeth properly aligned. They may be used toward the end of orthodontic treatment, after braces have been removed, or for other dental or medical purposes.
Retainers for Maloccusion
Most frequently, retainers are used during routine orthodontic treatment for malocclusion (misalignment). In such situations, retainers are worn as directed once the braces have been removed. The patient may be advised, for example, to wear the retainer all the time for several months and then only during sleep for a year or more in order to prevent the teeth from shifting back to their abnormal positions. The tendency in recent times is for patients to continue using their retainers during the night for longer periods since it has been discovered that teeth can shift out of position even after years of orthodontic treatment.
Other Reasons for Retainers
In some cases, patients never have to be fitted with braces, but are able to wear only retainers from the beginning. This may occur when the retainers are designed to close gaps between teeth, move just one tooth to its correct location, or to help resolve speech or other medical problems.
One problem treated with a particular type of retainer is a tongue thrust, a condition in which the tongue slips out between the teeth during speech. In this case, the patient wears a tongue cage retainer, constructed with metal bars to prevent, and eventually retrain, the tongue to move upwards instead of outwards during speech.
Another common reason for retainer usage is bruxism, or the grinding of the teeth. Bruxism usually occurs during sleep and can be a serious problem since it not only wears down tooth surfaces, but may result in headaches or jaw pain (TMJ). Retainers prevent bruxism by keeping the mouth from clothing completely during sleep.
Pros and Cons of Retainers
It is normal for patients wearing retainers to feel some pressure on their teeth and some possible soreness in their mouths. They may feel slight differences in articulation as well. These are rarely lasting problems. The majority of patients rapidly become almost unaware that they are wearing retainers. Because retainers can be removed, they present no difficulty in eating and do not limit the diet. They can also be cleaned easily and thoroughly. The most common problem with retainers is that, because they are so easily removed, they can be misplaced or even mistakenly thrown away.