Dental Health Topics

Your Teen's Retainer. Why Wear It, and How to Care for It

Your Teen's Retainer. Why Wear It, And How To Care For It

If it were possible to bottle up the pure joy of teen experiences after years of orthodontic treatment, it could probably be used to bring peace to the world. There is nothing quite like that feeling of un-tethering oneself from the bonds of metal and plastic, and sensitive teeth that can hardly stand the tippy-tippy touch of a finger after a tightening. The sense of freedom is truly marvelous. However. As soon as the chains of braces are broken, there's another nemesis to contend with – the dreaded retainer. And, getting your teen to follow the rules in wearing and taking care of one can be a challenge. Here's the fuel you need to keep them on track.

Why a Retainer Is Important

Whether or not you've worn braces previously, most people are familiar with what a retainer is, and the purpose behind wearing one. Many incorrectly assume, though, that retainers only come into play after having worn braces for a few years. In fact, since a retainer can be worn by anyone with a need to straighten their teeth, even adults with mildly crooked teeth can skip braces and go straight to the retainer. Maybe even you might benefit!? The other misconception people have is that once a person's teeth are straightened by braces, their teeth will always remain in their newly aligned state. Unfortunately, this isn't the case.

The reason a retainer must be worn has to do with the “spongy” nature of the innermost bone that encases the tooth. It’s because of the recovering nature of this type of bone tissue that we're even able to move a person's teeth through orthodontics. And, just as teeth can be moved into place because of this type of bone, they can also shift out of place without proper reinforcement. Thus, the reason for a retainer – it applies force to direct, or set teeth in place. This effort is particularly crucial in the days, weeks and months after the removal of your teen's braces, and many dentists even suggest a retainer should be worn all of one's days to guarantee straight teeth!

So, for a retainer to produce the results your investment deserves, and the look your teen desires, it has to be worn according to the guidelines set by their orthodontist, no “ifs” or “buts.” And, it must be properly cared for, so it's around to be worn in the first place.

Caring for a Retainer Means Not Having to Replace It! 

  • Keep it out of napkins and tissue paper: Countless retainers are unwittingly tossed in food establishment trash cans by teens who took their retainer out to eat, and dutifully wrapped it in a napkin to avoid looking gross in front of friends. A simple retainer case can prevent this expensive mishap.
  • Stay away from hard, sticky foodstuffs: The same things the can cause teeth to fracture can also cause a retainer to crack as well. Hard candies, and super-sticky foods like taffy, shouldn't be eaten while wearing a retainer. Similarly, chewing on ice isn't really ever a good idea for teeth and orthodontic appliances.
  • Brush away: Be sure to have your teen brush their retainer as they would their teeth. Since retainers can accumulate plaque just as teeth can, brushing the retainer nightly keeps plaque at bay.
  • Give it a bath: Once a month or so, soak the retainer in a glass of water with a denture cleaning tablet. This too keeps the retainer clean and free from bacteria and debris.
And that's it! Wearing a retainer really isn't all that bad, and putting in place good habits will mean your teen really won't even recognize they're wearing one, especially since they've had braces on for so long already. The rewards are worth it. Simply remind your teen that for many people, not wearing a retainer as instructed by their dental team is often the number one reason why they'll have to wear one again as an adult – or worse, yet, will need to wear braces again when they're older. And no one wants to relive that experience!