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Retainers are for life?

It is so common for me to be chatting with a potential orthodontic patient and see a look of surprise when I mention that in order to keep the great results that I promise, retainers will be necessary for life.
Orthodontists have tried for decades to come up with treatment methods that will improve whatwe refer to as stability. Stability in the mind of orthodontists can be defined as keeping your teeth in the exact same position as they were the day that the braces or aligners came off.

The fact of the matter is that the research we have in orthodontics tells us that there is no such thing as stability. Or at least stability without retention. It makes sense, the human body is ALWAYS changing. Our hair grows, our skin wrinkles and sags, our bones change shape, you get the picture.

What we know is that to keep the teeth beautiful, straight and unmoved from the day the orthodontic treatment was completed, we MUST have lifetime retention. Don’t get me wrong, there will be the occasional patient that doesn’t wear their retainers as prescribed, and their teeth will hardly move at all. How do we explain this? Luck.

Expecting to devise a treatment scheme that will guarantee that the teeth won’t move after only a brief time in retention is an absolute pipe dream. It would be the same as getting a facelift at the age of 16 and expect that you would look exactly the same 20 years later. It’s preposterous. Keep in mind that the jaw bones are living structures, they aren’t cement. Bones move in response to pressure and pressure is ALWAYS present in the mouth, from the cheeks, the tongue and grinding pressure from the teeth.

Trust me, wear your retainers for life! In fact, I usually give my patients FOUR sets of retainers. Two retainers are small, flat wires that are bonded to the back of the front teeth, top andbottom. We call those fixed retainers. The reason for the bonded wires is that the first place noticeable crowding usually returns is in the front of the mouth. Most commonly the lower front teeth. On top of these retainers I will commonly fabricate clear upper and lower retainers that look a lot like Invisalign®. I ask my patients to wear their clear retainers at nighttime… FOREVER.


I’ll tell you the same thing I tell all of my patients, no matter the type of retainer made for you (different cases require different retention protocols) you must treat them like pajamas for your teeth, never go to sleep without them.

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