Anyone who's worn braces celebrates that day they finally come off. But while this marks the end of the actual teeth-straightening process, it's just the beginning of the next phase—wearing a retainer to preserve those hard-earned gains.

A retainer is a dental appliance that keeps or "retains" straightened teeth in their new positions. Without it, there's a high chance the teeth would rebound to where they were before through a kind of tissue memory within the gum ligaments. In essence, the same natural mechanism that allows us to move teeth with braces can also work in reverse.

Most people are familiar with the removable retainer and its benefits. Being able to remove the device makes it easier to brush and floss teeth, and it's a convenience if you only need to wear it part of the time. But removable retainers can easily be misplaced and lost, requiring purchase of a replacement. And, there's always the temptation to wear it less than the recommended time.

There's also an alternative appliance that's growing in popularity known as a bonded or non-removable retainer. These are usually a thin wire bonded with a composite dental material to the back of the teeth. Unlike the removable retainer, only a dentist can remove the bonded variety.

Its fixed nature is its biggest advantage—since it's in to stay, there's no need to keep up with it. And because it's positioned behind the teeth, no one need know about save the wearer and their orthodontist. The bonded retainer can, however, take a little getting used to the fixed wire against the teeth, and it can make flossing more difficult.

Although more rigid than the removable type, a bonded retainer could still break while biting and chewing. Wearers need to exercise caution biting into hard foods like apples to avoid damage—and the added expense of repairing or replacing it.

As you or a family member approaches the day the braces come off, you'll surely be discussing with your orthodontist which type of retainer is best in your situation. Either way, wearing a retainer is an absolute must if you're going to protect that new smile you've endured so much to achieve.

If you would like more information on straightening teeth through orthodontics, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bonded Retainers.”