Finishing your last set of Invisalign aligners is a significant milestone! Your orthodontic treatment is finally over...or is it? The truth is that being done with Invisalign isn't the end of your orthodontic journey, it’s just the beginning of the next phase of treatment: maintenance. You’ll need retainers to keep your new smile looking great for years to come. Here’s what you need to know about retainers.
Retainers: The Next Step in Your Orthodontic Treatment
A short anatomy lesson will help explain why retainers are required after treatment with Invisalign is complete. Holding each of your teeth in place is a ligament, which you can imagine as being similar to a rubber band. These ligaments stretch as your aligners shift your teeth into their new locations. When your aligners are removed, the ligaments want to snap back into their previous positions, just like a rubber band does when it’s stretched and then you let it go. Your ligaments will gradually pull your teeth back to their old positions if you don't wear your retainers, which means you'll need a second round of orthodontic treatment.
Retainers are custom-made orthodontic appliances that keep your teeth in place while the jawbone and soft tissue around the roots continue to heal and stabilize. Retainers may also be used to make minor modifications to your teeth after your Invisalign treatment is complete, but they’re primarily used to hold your teeth in place while the supporting structures in your mouth rebuild around the new positions of your teeth.
How Long Are Retainers Needed?
So, how long do you have to wear a retainer after Invisalign? It depends on the type of retainer you have—and in some cases, you may have two types of retainers, one for your top arch and the other for your bottom arch.
Essix and Hawley retainers are both considered removable retainers. An Essix retainer resembles a clear aligner in appearance, but the material used to make it is thicker because retainers are meant to last for years, whereas aligners are only used for two weeks. Hawley retainers are made with an acrylic or plastic base and have a wire that wraps around the teeth to keep them in place. Essix retainers are most commonly used after Invisalign treatment; in fact, Invisalign makes their own brand of Essix retainers called Vivera.
You'll have to wear your Vivera retainers all day for a certain amount of time, taking them off only when you need to eat, drink anything other than water, and brush your teeth. Then, you'll be able to wear your retainers only at night after this initial period of all day use. We’ll give you a timeline for how long you’ll need to wear your Vivera retainers once you’re finished with your Invisalign aligners.
Retainers that are fixed, or bonded, are attached to the backs of your teeth on either the upper arch, lower arch, or both. While they do require a little extra attention when brushing and flossing, because they're permanently bonded to your teeth there's no need to remember to put them in every night.
Although a fixed retainer is normally worn permanently, it’s not unusual for them to fall off many years after being placed. At this point, you may not need to replace it, but it’s best to let your dentist decide.