Posts for: February, 2017
Orthodontics can produce an amazing smile transformation. With today’s advanced appliances and techniques even the most difficult malocclusions (bad bites) can be overcome. All of this innovation, however, depends on one basic anatomical fact: though firmly set in the mouth, our teeth can still move.
Teeth are actually held in place by the periodontal ligament, a strong, elastic tissue that attaches to them through tiny collagen fibers on one side of the ligament and to the jawbone with similar fibers on the other side. When pressure is placed against a tooth, the bone on the opposite side of the force begins to dissolve (resorb), allowing the tooth to move. As it moves, new bone is built up behind the tooth, to stabilize it. Orthodontists take advantage of this natural mechanism through orthodontic hardware like braces that applies pressure in the desired direction of movement, while the ligament and bone do the rest.
There is, though, a downside to this process. The teeth, bone and gum tissues can contain a kind of “memory” for the former natural position of the teeth. Over time, the lower front teeth tend to take a gradual migratory movement back towards their original position. Also, as we age the lower front teeth may crowd each other as there is a genetic influence for teeth to move to the midline of the face, causing a pressure that allows the skinny lower front teeth to slip behind each other. As a result of both of these tendencies, corrected teeth may retreat from their new positions.
To stop these tendencies, we use an appliance known as a retainer after braces or other hardware is removed. As the name implies, this appliance “retains” the teeth in their new position. For structural “memory,” the retainer will keep the teeth in their new position until the impulse to return to the old one has faded, about eighteen months. Retainers can also slow or stop the natural genetic influence of movement, but it may mean wearing a retainer for an indefinite period, especially individuals who’ve undergone orthodontic treatment later in life.
The length of time you’ll need to wear a retainer after braces — and what type, whether a removable appliance or one permanently attached — will depend on a number of factors including the type of malocclusion, your individual mouth structure and age. We’ll recommend the best option that ensures the best chance of keeping your teeth in their new position.
If you would like more information on retainers after orthodontic treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Why Orthodontic Retainers?”
In her decades-long career, renowned actress Kathy Bates has won Golden Globes, Emmys, and many other honors. Bates began acting in her twenties, but didn't achieve national recognition until she won the best actress Oscar for Misery — when she was 42 years old! “I was told early on that because of my physique and my look, I'd probably blossom more in my middle age,” she recently told Dear Doctor magazine. “[That] has certainly been true.” So if there's one lesson we can take from her success, it might be that persistence pays off.
When it comes to her smile, Kathy also recognizes the value of persistence. Now 67, the veteran actress had orthodontic treatment in her 50's to straighten her teeth. Yet she is still conscientious about wearing her retainer. “I wear a retainer every night,” she said. “I got lazy about it once, and then it was very difficult to put the retainer back in. So I was aware that the teeth really do move.”
Indeed they do. In fact, the ability to move teeth is what makes orthodontic treatment work. By applying consistent and gentle forces, the teeth can be shifted into better positions in the smile. That's called the active stage of orthodontic treatment. Once that stage is over, another begins: the retention stage. The purpose of retention is to keep that straightened smile looking as good as it did when the braces came off. And that's where the retainer comes in.
There are several different kinds of retainers, but all have the same purpose: To hold the teeth in their new positions and keep them from shifting back to where they were. We sometimes say teeth have a “memory” — not literally, but in the sense that if left alone, teeth tend to migrate back to their former locations. And if you've worn orthodontic appliances, like braces or aligners, that means right back where you started before treatment.
By holding the teeth in place, retainers help stabilize them in their new positions. They allow new bone and ligaments to re-form and mature around them, and give the gums time to remodel themselves. This process can take months to years to be complete. But you may not need to wear a retainer all the time: Often, removable retainers are worn 24 hours a day at first; later they are worn only at night. We will let you know what's best in your individual situation.
So take a tip from Kathy Bates, star of the hit TV series American Horror Story, and wear your retainer as instructed. That's the best way to keep your straight new smile from changing back to the way it was — and to keep a bad dream from coming true.
If you would like more information about orthodontic retainers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more about this topic in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Why Orthodontic Retainers?” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.” The interview with Kathy Bates appears in the latest issue of Dear Doctor.