A permanent retainer, or “fixed retainer,” is a short wire glued to the back (tongue side) of your teeth. It helps prevent teeth from moving after orthodontics is complete. The name is a bit misleading, because these permanent retainers do not last forever (more on that later).
There are several factors to consider when deciding whether you should get a permanent retainer – Your ability to keep them clean, possibility of breaking, and your orthodontist’s recommendations. If you take care of your fixed retainer, it can last a long time and give you peace of mind after your orthodontic treatment is complete.
Cleaning around your permanent retainer
A fixed retainer is glued to the back of your teeth. It connects your teeth together and makes it harder to clean between your teeth. You won’t be able to floss normally, and food can be trapped under the retainer. Therefore, you will want to:
- Use a waterpik and floss threader to clean between your teeth and under the fixed retainer. If you had braces, the concept is the same as cleaning underneath the wire. If you had aligners or need a refresher on how to use a floss threader, see this great video, or ask your orthodontist to help.
- Regular checkups & cleanings are a must! Since it is much harder to keep the area clean, your hygienist will be able to help you maintain low levels of plaque and tartar between teeth.
- Even with regular cleanings, it is impossible to reach every nook and cranny around fixed retainers. Don’t be surprised that if your retainer breaks and/or is removed, there may be tartar buildup behind that retainer.
“Permanent” retainers are never permanent! “But wait, my friend has a permanent retainer and it’s been there for 10 years and she has never had an issue,” some may say. It is impossible to predict how long a fixed retainer will last. Every person is different. They could last 6 months, or they could last years and years. How likely your retainer may break depends on:
- Your diet – if you eat hard foods, your retainer has a higher chance of breaking. To prevent this, try to eat harder food with your back teeth, and try not to bite into large things with your front teeth.
- Your care – if you are more careful with taking care of your fixed retainer, it will last longer.
- Your habits – Do you grind or clench your teeth? If so, you have a higher chance of getting a broken fixed retainer.
The tricky part is that if your fixed retainer breaks, you may not know it until your teeth start shifting. Also, the fixed retainer does not hold your back teeth. This is why orthodontists often recommend a removable retainer for nighttime wear as a backup.
Your orthodontist will know what is best for your teeth. Ask your orthodontist if you are interested in obtaining a fixed retainer. If you have a broken fixed retainer and want it replaced (or removed), schedule a consultation with an orthodontist to discuss options. Many people choose to go through a short period of orthodontic treatment to correct any shifting that happened after their retainer broke, before obtaining a new set of retainers.