Orthodontic Retainers: Do You Really Need Them?


So, you’ve been wearing braces for anywhere from 6 months to 4 years.  It seems that the treatment will never end. Then that long awaited day arrives and you FINALLY get your braces off or finish your Invisalign treatment and now the dentist tells you that you have to wear a retainer. What’s the point of that?  Is the dentist just trying to make more money?
There is a good reason why the dentist wants you to get a retainer -to ensure that you get a maximum return on your investment.  After all, orthodontics treatment isn’t free and it takes time.   You want it to work.

How do teeth move?

First I want to say mention how teeth move. A gentle amount of pressure is applied to the tooth. This pressure activates cells which will remove bone in the direction the tooth is moving, and add bone in the place that the tooth has just vacated. While this is happening the teeth become mobile. At the end of treatment we don’t want the teeth to move, and it takes some time to set the teeth in the final place and keep them there.

Why do the teeth move back?

The theory behind the relapse of orthodontic treatment is that there are fibers that go from the tooth to the bone which are stretched when the teeth move. If the teeth are not secured the fibers will try to reverse the stretching and return to the pre-treatment position. Especially at the end of treatment teeth will relapse fast – it will start almost instantly and will display significant movement within a few weeks.

I personally experienced tooth movement and had braces again in my early 30’s. At the end of this treatment the doctor got me numb and tried to cut the fibers. This was a good idea but did not seem to work—there are too many fibers and you can’t cut fibers that can’t be reached.

So if you don’t want your teeth to move, wear a retainer. The longer, the better. Wear them full time for the first few months up to a year. After the mobility is gone just wear them when you sleep. Patients report that when wearing them for sleep they are tight to put on—this is the teeth trying to move. It’s not too hard to wear them, so just do it!