The much anticipated day has arrived: your child's braces have been removed. You are really happy with the way your son's or daughter's smile looks now. All the time, money, and discomfort of having teeth straightened have been well worth it.
But did you know that the teeth could relapse into their old positions if your child doesn't wear a retainer every night?
Why is wearing a retainer necessary?
It is important for both you and your child to understand the reason for wearing a retainer. It has to do with how orthodontia works in causing teeth to move to more satisfactory positions.
The reason that orthodontia (“ortho” – straight, “odont” – tooth) works is that the tissues holding teeth in place are living and keep remodeling themselves. Teeth are suspended in the jawbone by the periodontal ligament (“peri” – around, “odont” – tooth), which suspends the tooth by extending from the cementum of the tooth on one side into the bone on the other. Cementum is the thin layer of calcified tissue covering the dentin of the root. When light forces are placed on it, the periodontal ligament can reform itself and adapt to the pressures it is under.
Orthodontists know how to keep the pressures during orthodontic treatment light enough to cause movement that is slow and steady but not so strong that the tissues are damaged. If too much force is applied, the process can cause damage to the periodontal tissues and tooth roots.
When the teeth have moved to their desired positions, they will continue slowly moving. The purpose of a retainer is to stabilize the teeth in their “finished” position. They must be retained in this position long enough that the bone and ligament can completely re-form around them, a process that can take several months.
Make it clear to your child that a retainer won't have to be worn forever. Once your child understands that it is very important to wear the retainer for a few months in order to stabilize that attractive new smile, it should be easy to convince him or her to use it nightly.