Are Retainers necessary after Clear Aligners?

One of the best days ever is the one when you’ve completed your orthodontic clear aligner treatment. Proud of your accomplishment, and excited about the great result, don’t forget that there’s one very important step left: Retainer wear.

What are retainers?

Retainers are clear removable devices that are used to maintain or retain the positions of your teeth after orthodontic treatment. They look exactly like your Wondersmile aligners, only they are made of a more durable plastic.

What is the difference between retainers and clear aligners?

Clear aligners are a series of clear plastic devices that are designed to move crooked, gap or crowded teeth into better alignment. Retainers, on the other hand, are clear plastic appliances, made of an identical material to the aligners, used to stabilise, or hold teeth in position. The main difference between clear aligners and retainers is that aligners move teeth; retainers keep your teeth in place after your clear aligner treatment.

The other difference between retainers and clear aligners is that retainers are usually made of a thicker, slightly more rigid plastic than that of the aligners. The thicker plastic improves the durability of the retainers, which typically can last from 4-12 months.

Why do you need retainers after Wondersmile clear aligners?

Orthodontic tooth movement involves realigning teeth within the bone. The teeth are anchored to the bone by a network of microscopic fibres called the periodontal ligament, or PDL for short. The PDL is only about 0.2 mm thick. It lines the socket of every tooth.

When teeth are moved, the PDL fibres get stretched, and like rubber bands, there is a tendency for the fibres to rebound, trying to return to the original arrangement. This recoiling can shift teeth back toward their original positions. This shift is known as relapse and following up your Wondersmile treatment with retainers will stop it from happening.

What else causes teeth to move after braces or clear aligners?

Teeth are also influenced by the forces of chewing and pressure from the muscles of your lips, cheek and tongue. So, whenever teeth are realigned, those forces can also lead to relapse if you don’t wear your retainer after your clear aligner treatment. And, this relapse tendency is no different after wearing Wondersmile clear aligners than after wearing braces: Everyone’s teeth tend to relapse.

How often do I have to wear my retainers after my clear aligner treatment?

After finishing orthodontic treatment, it takes about 90 days for the bone, fibres in your gum and PDL to firm up and accommodate to the new tooth position. Retainer wear must start immediately after completing the last aligner stage of your Wondersmile treatment to begin the stabilisation.

How long do orthodontists recommend wearing retainers?

If you ask 5 orthodontists how many hours their patients should wear their retainers, you will likely get 5 different responses. Some orthodontists will recommend wearing retainers as little as full time for 2 weeks (day, night, sleeping), followed by night time only. Others will recommend 12 months of full-time retainer wear, followed by nighttime wear after braces or clear aligner treatments. Surprisingly, both approaches appear to work equally well. Generally speaking, more retainer wear is always a good thing to do after your Wondersmile treatment.

When should I wear my retainers?

I ask my patients to wear retainers for 3 months full time, followed by nighttime wear, indefinitely. That’s forever nighttime wear if they don’t want to see their straight teeth get crooked again. To remain eligible for Wondersmile’s Treatment Guarantee, you’ll need to purchase retainers every 4-6 months and upload all required teeth progress photos. Click here to see the full terms and conditions.

When can I stop wearing my retainers?

Orthodontists used to believe that if retainers were worn for long enough (a certain number of years), that teeth would remain stable in their final alignment, and retainers could be discontinued. This has been disproven, as patients who wore their retainers for several years experienced similar amounts of relapse as those who only wore retainers for several months.

Unfortunately, such a magic number of years for retainer wear after clear aligner treatment doesn’t exist. The most important thing is to never abandon retainer wear, or else you too will join the ranks of the relapsed. Shift happens!

How can I order retainers with Wondersmile?

Armed with this knowledge, you will want to always have retainers to wear after a clear aligner treatment. You can order retainers through your personal Wondersmile dashboard, and also track the order. Wearing your retainers reliably for the long term has another benefit beyond just keeping your smile looking great: You are eligible for Wondersmile’s treatment guarantee.

For the rest of your life, if your teeth ever shift out of alignment, additional treatment to get your teeth realigned is provided at no additional charge. This benefit only applies to patients who followed through on their treatment plan and retainer wear. To remain eligible for Wondersmile's Treatment Guarantee read the terms and conditions.

How do I get started with Wondersmile's clear aligner treatment?

Fix mild to moderate teeth spacing and crowding with Wondersmile clear aligners. You can take the FREE online assessment here to start. Alternatively, you can book a painless teeth scan at a clinic near you.

Written by Dr. Richard Schechtman.