Most patients want straight teeth. For some, cosmetics is the issue. For many, improving function and increasing the chances that they will be able to keep their own teeth for a lifetime is a primary concern. Either way, more and more patients are finding that orthodontics/braces is an excellent option to meet their dental needs.
Many patients reveal to me during initial examination that they had orthodontic treatment in the past but no longer wear the retainer. Often times, I will do an examination and determine that they would benefit from having orthodontic treatment performed again. Patients usually don’t like hearing this!
When a patient has orthodontic treatment and doesn’t wear a retainer, the teeth often shift back to where they were before the treatment was initiated. In dentistry, we call this a “relapse”. Patients that don’t wear their retainers risk relapse, and the solution typically involves getting braces or some time of orthodontic treatment again. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s the full cost of orthodontic treatment. Again.
To be fair, many of these patients are adults that had orthodontics when they were children, and perhaps they or the parents did not understand the significance of wearing the retainer. If you’re an adult that is considering orthodontic treatment for yourself or your child, or you or your child are currently in orthodontic treatment, please consider these common “excuses” that I hear for not wearing your retainer and decide how you feel about them.
1. “I Lost It.” -Well that’s always a pretty acceptable excuse for anything, right? Losing something is perfectly understandable, it happens to the best of us. Teeth are very understanding and won’t shift back to their original position simply because of a lost retainer. They’ll understand, right? Teeth won’t understand. When it comes to tooth movement, the teeth have a tendency to do what they want to do, and more often than not that’s shifting right back to where they were pre-treatment. Orthodontic retainers are designed to keep teeth in line and prevent undesired movement from happening. If you lose your retainer, seriously consider getting a new one.
2. “They Never Gave Me One.” Let’s suppose this is true. You saw an orthodontist for orthodontic treatment, and they didn’t make a retainer for you. This isn’t good! Whether it is fixed or removable, your orthodontist should give you some kind of retainer with some specific instructions on use. The purpose of this blog post is to help patients be a bit more savvy about retainers. Some time before or during treatment, ask your orthodontist what retainer options are available for your case. Ask them what the best option is for a particular case (if there are options). Whatever the best option is, go with that. If your orthodontist or the general dentist performing your orthodontics doesn’t make retainers, consider getting a second opinion.
3. “It Broke and Insurance Didn’t Cover a New One.” Most people are pretty accepting of the idea that the tires on their car should be changed when they wear out. The oil needs to be changed even more often. When it comes shoes, we wear them out and buy new ones. Most people that wear glasses get a new pair every few years. Most people get a new cell phone every two years since they wear out and break so easily. This is all pretty normal, accepted stuff. For some reason, though, many people think that an orthodontic retainer, something that goes in your mouth for hours each day, should last forever. It seems that most insurance companies cover one per lifetime, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Just because the insurance company thinks that one should last you forever doesn’t make it so. Retainers don’t last forever. Budget to have a new one made every few years after your initial investment in orthodontic treatment.
4. “It was uncomfortable.” If your retainer is uncomfortable at first, this is normal. It takes getting used to. If your retainer continues to be uncomfortable and you can not tolerate it, return to your orthodontist and see if it needs to be adjusted or remade. A retainer should fit you comfortably after a few days of getting used to it. If you went through all of the discomfort and all of the inconvenience of having orthodontics, surely a little bit of inconvenience associated with getting used to a retainer is no big deal. The discomfort often goes away, but if it doesn’t, return to your orthodontist to see if other options are available.
5. “It Didn’t Fit Anymore.” I can think of four reasons a retainer doesn’t fit anymore. 1. It never fit in the first place, 2. The teeth shifted from inconsistent wear of the retainer, 3. the retainer is broken, or 4. the retainer is inadequate for your needs and it should be remade. In any case, it sounds like it is time for a new retainer!
Remember, the consequence of not wearing an orthodontic retainer is that the teeth may shift back to where they were before treatment. This could potentially put your back to square one with your orthodontic needs. Budget to have a new retainer made every few years whether your insurance company thinks its a good idea or not. Get on the phone and plead your case with your insurance company (you are the customer, after all) that a new one is necessary and see if they can help you out with some coverage. Insist that your orthodontist provide you with the best retainer possible for your particular case, and make sure it fits and that you are comfortable and happy. Protect your investment in your appearance and dental health forever with a quality orthodontic retainer!