After the orthodontist removes dental braces, a dental retainer is used to help keep the teeth in their new position. Some patients may need to undergo orthodontic surgery such as a apicoecotomy to prepare their teeth for using a retainer.
Retainers maintain the teeth while the surrounding bone reforms around them and are generally worn all the time a short period (between 6-12 months). Thereafter, they may be worn periodically, typically nightly during sleep. If a patient does not use this highly recommended appliance, their teeth might move back to their original position, defeating the whole purpose of getting braces in the first place. While it is possible for teeth to stay aligned without regular use of a dental retainer, the teeth will crowd as we get older. It is for this reason, that it is recommended that retainer be worn periodically for many years, or indefinitely, after orthodontic treatment.
The three most popular retainers used with the process of orthodontic braces are the Hawley, Essix and Fixed retainers. Metal Hawley retainers are anchored in acrylic plates shaped to fit upper and lower mouth of the patient. Essix retainers consist of a clear plastic tray form-fitted over the arch of the teeth. They are less expensive than Hawley retainers and easier to wear. Unlike Hawley or Essix retainers which can be easily removed from the mouth, Fixed Retainers are permanently bonded and are often used by dentists when a significant change has occurred in the bite of the patient and there is a high risk for reversal of the process.
If it is found that the teeth are not ready for a proper retainer, after the braces have been removed, the orthodontist may prescribe the use of a pre-finisher. A pre-finisher is a rubber appliance, similar to a mouth guard that fixes those minor problems that a dental brace cannot. This would include gaps between the teeth and small spaces between the upper and lower jaws. Like a retainer, a pre-finisher can be moved freely into and out of the mouth.