Why are retainers so important?

What to Expect with Retainers

Hearing that you may need to wear a retainer may seem like a scary thing at first. But that’s probably because you are not all that familiar with what they are and what they do. Once you take the mystery out of retainers, it is clear to see that they are a simple device that helps to correct your bite, as well as sometimes address other conditions. And, they are nothing to be afraid of!

What They Are

You may have seen people wearing a retainer before, but they are not all that noticeable. A retainer is a small device that is made out of clear plastic, rubber, or even metal. They are custom-made so that they only fit your teeth. They are part of a treatment plan that has likely been determined by an orthodontist.
Using retainers to help align teeth is a common option. The length of time that someone has to wear them varies, but they are especially common following someone having their braces removed. During the process of wearing braces, the teeth have been moved into the desired position, but they are not yet settled into the gum and jaw. By using a retainer, it helps to further set your teeth in their new position. Teeth tend to shift, so the retainer can help keep them where they are supposed to be until they are settled in and will not shift out of place.

What do retainers look like?

Reasons for Wearing

Wearing a retainer after having braces removed is just one of the ways retainers are used. During this route, the retainer is typically worn each day for a period of six months, then the person will wear it to bed at night for a while. This effort just helps to ensure that the new tooth placement is retained.

There are other conditions that call for a retainer as part of corrective treatment as well. Some of those conditions include:

  • To close any gaps that may be in the bite.
  • To help correct speech problems or
  • A variety of medical conditions, including tongue thrust, where the tongue goes between the teeth when talking.
  • Retainers can also be used to address bruxism, which is the grinding of the teeth while sleeping.

There are a variety of conditions that may call for a treatment plan that requires a retainer. Working with an orthodontist is the best way to determine if one can help with a particular condition and how long one would have to be worn, as the time varies depending on the severity of the problem being treated.

Preparing for a Retainer

When a retainer is being recommended as part of someone’s treatment plan, it helps to know what to expect, such as a mold being made of you teeth. This is done through a process of using a thick liquid, called alginate, which makes a temporary mold of the teeth. That temporary mold is then used to make the retainer.

Retainers today have come a long way from the bigger pure metal ones of decades past. They can be customized to show your personality, including having colors and pictures on them, or they can be clear plastic so that they are less noticeable to others. Depending on who is getting the retainer and their age, there are many options to consider.

Length, Care and Beyond

The length of time you can expect to wear your retainer varies. Much depends on the reason and severity of the treatment you are receiving. The person can expect to meet with the orthodontist periodically, in order to make sure that everything is going according to the treatment plan and there is no discomfort.

Caring for a retainer is simple because they can easily be removed. It is recommended that they are cleaned daily, in order to maintain good oral hygiene and get rid of plaque and food particles. How the retainer is cleaned depends upon the type that you have, so you will need to check with the orthodontist for the cleaning recommendations on your specific version.

Retainers are part of a treatment plan that may be addressing the misalignment of the teeth, close gaps in the bite, correct speech problems, and even assist in medical conditions. Retainers are a simple device that can do an important job. Whether helping to get teeth settled in after braces, to align teeth, or to correct another condition, they are a treatment option that helps people to feel confident, as well as more comfortable.


Should I worry about wisdom teeth?

What You Need to Know About Wisdom Teeth

At any given time, ask half a dozen adults around you about their wisdom teeth, and there is a good chance you will find that most have had them removed. This is common, considering what they are and some of the risks that they may pose. Many people have them removed during their younger years, for valid reasons, making it a good idea to be familiar with the ins and outs of these teeth, so that you will be better able to deal with them for you and your family.

What They Are, Why Removed

Wisdom teeth, also referred to as your third molars, are the larger teeth at the very back of the mouth. They are the last teeth to come in, usually somewhere between the ages of 15 and 25, which is considered to be the “age of wisdom,” hence their name. While some people have no problems with their wisdom teeth erupting, many others find that they present a challenge and can be risky to the health of your other teeth.

About the time that this third set of molars begins erupting, some common problems also emerge as a result. Some of the problems associated with erupting wisdom teeth include:

  • Impaction. According to the National Institutes of Health, wisdom teeth are the most common teeth to become impacted. When a tooth is impacted, it means that the tooth has failed to emerge through the surface of the gum, or that only a portion of it has emerged.
  • Caries. An impacted third molar leads to a high probability of creating dental carries, or cavities, both in that tooth and in the one next to it, as well. This is because they often trap plaque in the area, which is difficult to reach and to clean.
  • Cysts. When wisdom teeth are impacted, it can cause cysts and tumors to form around the area. This can lead to additional problems because it can affect the bone, and even damage the jaw. Risks with this involve infections, as well as tooth abscesses.
  • Misalignment. The emerging wisdom teeth may not be coming in straight or, even if they do, can cause problems with the other teeth. As they emerge, they often push the other teeth out of alignment.
  • Discomfort. The vast majority of people who have dealt with emerging or impacted wisdom teeth know just how uncomfortable the experience can be. From headaches to toothaches, pain, swelling, and feeling ill, the discomfort associated with wisdom teeth can make you miserable.

When to Remove

The best time to have your third set of molars removed really depends on the tooth’s development. A good professional rule of thumb is to have them removed when two-thirds of the root has formed. Ideally, it is recommended that people have them removed by the time they turn 24 years old.

This is because it will help to prevent all of the problems listed above, and because the ability to re-grow bone in that area of the jaw is reduced as time goes on. Also, the third set of molars are usually easier to remove when you are younger, and the recovery period is also shorter during that time.

The presence of your third set of molars is usually associated with an increased risk of periodontitis, which is an inflammation of the gums which can lead to tooth loss, abscesses, infections, and tooth shifting. It is important to note, as well, that an absence of symptoms does not mean that there is no problem or disease.

Additionally, research regarding people who did not have their wisdom teeth removed demonstrates that, the older they got, the more common it was for them to have cavities in those teeth, as well as in the adjacent ones, due to the difficulties of keeping them properly cleaned. In fact, a 2011 study published in the “Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery” reported that, of the nearly 7,000 older adults they studied who had at least one third molar, most of those people had caries or periodontal pathology involving those teeth, and that few had visible molars that were free of disease.

Additional Concerns

There is some controversy regarding whether those who wear a retainer or have had braces in the past need to continue wearing their retainer once the wisdom teeth have been removed. Because there is a risk of relapse if the retainer is not worn, it is recommended that patients continue wearing theirs, as recommended by their orthodontist. Doing so will help to eliminate the risks associated with shifting teeth.

If you are experiencing the emergence of your wisdom teeth, or someone in your family is, be sure you know the facts, risks, and options that are currently available. Having wisdom teeth removed is a common procedure today, one that most people recover from without issue. Removing third molars can be an important step to take if you are having problems now, or as a preventative measure to avoid issues that can arise later.

Addressing the Issue

Either way, it is important to speak with your doctor to learn more about your specific third molar development, risks, and options. When you are dealing with your third molars, it may seem as if they steal the show, due to the discomfort they can cause. But it doesn’t have to be like that, since this is an issue that can usually be addressed without difficulty.

Wisdom teeth really are an issue that is better dealt with sooner, rather than later, in order to avoid a lot of discomfort, as well as the risk of an array of complications. Besides, when you address this issue head on, rather than putting it off and prolonging the issue, you will find that you gain the wisdom, without all the worry!


© 2006-2012  Dustin S. Burleson, DDS.  All rights reserved.