Getting braces off is always a big day, but did you know that your orthodontic treatment isn’t over once your braces are removed? Maintaining your new straight smile is a long-term commitment that doesn’t end just because you’re no longer coming to Craig & Streight for check-ups every 4-8 weeks!

Once upon a time, we thought that when we put teeth into the “right” positions, they would stay that way forever. Research over the last twenty years or so has shown that this isn’t accurate, however. There isn’t any one “right” position we can put teeth in that will guarantee a permanent, unchanging result. Most people will experience changes to their tooth alignment as they get older, whether or not they’ve ever had orthodontic treatment.

To understand this kind of movement, we need to look at the two types of changes that occur after orthodontic treatment.

Post-treatment movement

When your treatment is complete, there can sometimes be an immediate tendency for your teeth to drift back into their original positions. It might sound strange, but this is due to the “memory” your teeth, bone, and gum tissues have. Studies have shown that over time, this tendency lessens, but it can often be an issue for up to 18 months post-treatment.

There’s also a slower, longer lasting change that occurs over time. This is likely due to a gradual “uprighting” movement of the front teeth in the lower jaw, which occurs naturally with age. This can cause teeth to crowd as they move toward the tongue.

Having your teeth straightened using braces or Invisalign in your teens or as an adult won’t prevent either of these changes. The only guaranteed way to keep your teeth from shifting into undesirable positions and your bite stable is to hold them in the correct positions indefinitely using a retainer.

What retainers are & how they work

A retainer is simply a metal or plastic device that keeps the teeth aligned after a patient has completed their braces or Invisalign treatment. They are individually molded to fit into each patient’s mouth, and provide the kind of pressure and guidance needed to prevent teeth from drifting back into their previous alignment. Retainers work by quite literally “retaining” the teeth in their new position.


When we create a customized treatment plan for you, it will include the type of retainer and the duration time needed. There are several types of commonly used retainers. Most are removable, but some are permanently attached behind your front teeth. Although they all share the same goal of keeping your teeth straight and in place, they accomplish this in different ways. We’ll be able to determine the appropriate retainer for you based on your particular treatment and your age, among other factors.

The two main types of retainers generally recommended for patients to wear are

Hawley retainers: these are the most commonly used retainers for the upper teeth. A Hawley retainer consists of an acrylic piece shaped to fit the upper mouth, with a wire that surrounds the outer surface of the upper teeth.

Essix Retainers: these retainers are completely clear. With a similar design and look to Invisalign aligners, Essix retainers are designed to fit over all the teeth, and aren’t as noticeable as Hawley retainers.

Will I have to wear a retainer forever?

There are many different factors that will affect the exact amount of time you’ll need to wear a retainer. In the first three to six months after your braces are removed, most orthodontists will recommend you wear it at all times, except when you’re eating or brushing your teeth. Once your teeth have started to stabilize in their new position, you’ll normally be able to start wearing your retainer overnight only. Doing this over a period of about 1-3 years after your braces are removed will prevent an immediate orthodontic relapse. You might not have to wear your retainer forever, but to keep a beautiful straight smile teeth for the rest of your life, most orthodontists recommend you continue to wear a retainer to bed at least two or three nights a week indefinitely.

What will happen if I don’t wear a retainer?

Since retainers are designed to keep your teeth in a straight position, not wearing it as directed over a long period of time will cause problems. If you accidentally skip a day or two, your teeth won’t immediately spring back into their previous crowded or crooked positions. But over time, your teeth will begin to gradually gravitate back to where they used to be. Many patients are rigorous about wearing their retainer in the first few years after braces treatment, but then wear it less and less until they no longer bother with wearing it at all. This can result in noticeably shifted teeth.

Ill-fitting retainers

If you don’t wear your retainer for a while, it may no longer fit because your teeth have shifted so far away from their previous positions. If the misalignment is very slight, it may be possible to force the retainer back onto the teeth even if it’s not a perfect fit. Constantly wearing a retainer that’s only slightly too tight can push teeth back into place over time. However, this is not recommended if the misalignment is such that it requires you to use force to put your retainer back into place. Wearing a noticeably ill-fitting retainer can cause damage to the surface of the teeth, so be sure and contact us about being fitted for a new one if you can no longer wear yours comfortably.

Keeping your Craig & Streight smile for a lifetime

Just about every patient will experience some slight shifting after their braces are removed. Retainers are an important continuation of your orthodontic treatment because they help to prevent teeth from settling unevenly. If you’re in the Oklahoma City area, and are looking for more information on braces or Invisalign treatment, or post-orthodontic treatment with retainers, get in touch with us today to schedule an appointment at one of our three conveniently located offices. Here at Craig & Streight, we’re dedicated to giving you the smile of your dreams and ensuring you keep it!

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