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Why Do I Need a Retainer?

July 20th, 2022

Congratulations! You’ve done the hard work necessary to create your beautiful smile! You’ve carefully completed all the steps needed to reach the end of your orthodontic journey. Well, nearly all the steps. We can’t forget that last step which will ensure that all your hard work is rewarded.

When you first began orthodontic treatment, Drs. Burk and Flinn decided on the best plan for straightening your teeth and perfecting your bite, whether you wore traditional braces, lingual braces, aligners, or other orthodontic appliances. And now that you’re finishing treatment, there’s one more option to consider—your retainer.

Why do I need a retainer?

While you’ve spent time in treatment, more has changed than just the position of your teeth. The periodontal ligament, the connective tissue that connects the teeth to the jawbone, is stretched as the teeth shift. The bone in your jaw changes, too, reforming and rebuilding around the roots of your teeth as they move to their ideal locations.

These changes happen because your braces or aligners apply gentle, constant pressure to move your teeth. When you’ve finished wearing these appliances, the pressure stops. Ligaments will try to return to their original shape, which can shift teeth back toward their old positions. And the rebuilding bone isn’t dense enough yet to stop teeth from shifting due to the normal, everyday pressures of eating, chewing, and smiling.

A retainer prevents your teeth from moving back, or “relapsing,” by giving your bones and ligaments time to stabilize and rebuild. The process takes months, so keeping your teeth in place as bones rebuild and grow denser is crucial. This is especially important for patients with more serious misalignments. Drs. Burk and Flinn will let you know which kind of retainer will be best for you and just how long you’ll need to wear your retainer.

Are there different kinds of retainers?

There are! Retainers can be removable or fixed, visible or nearly invisible, metal, plastic, or metal and plastic. Three of the most popular retainer options include:

  • Hawley Retainers—the traditional removable retainer, which uses a molded acrylic plate with wires attached to keep your teeth properly aligned and to hold your retainer in place.
  • Clear Plastic Retainers—a removable retainer made of custom vacuum-formed plastic, which fits over the teeth like a clear aligner.
  • Fixed Retainers—a small single wire bonded to the back of specific teeth, which holds them in place and prevents any movement.

Drs. Burk and Flinn will let you know whether a removable or fixed retainer is best for making sure your teeth don’t start to relapse, and fill you in on the benefits and care of each type of retainer.

How long do I need to wear a retainer?

There’s no standard answer to this question. Just like your retainer is custom-built to fit your individual teeth, the amount of time you’ll spend in that retainer depends on your individual needs. Retainers might be worn fulltime for months or years, be worn only at night after several months of daily wear, or be worn long-term to make sure your orthodontic work lasts.

Because you’ve done the hard work already, and your beautiful, healthy smile is the result. Talk to a member of our Rockville and Olney, MD team about which retainer option will be best for making sure that this smile lasts a lifetime.

Keeping It Clean—Better for Your Retainer, Better for Your Oral Health!

July 13th, 2022

Now that you’ve graduated from your braces or aligners, you might think you’re finished with orthodontic cleaning tips. Not quite yet! Your retainer needs love, too—not just because it can look or smell “less than appealing” without your help, but because it’s good for your dental health.

Removable Retainers

If you have a Hawley retainer or a clear retainer, cleaning it whenever you remove it is a great idea. Unappetizing white patches mean plaque or mineral deposits from your saliva have dried and hardened on your retainer’s surface. And if you notice an unpleasant taste or odor, it probably means that germs and bacteria have made themselves at home and are growing in and on your appliance.

You don’t want old plaque or new bacteria in your mouth! Here are some ways to keep your retainer clean and fresh:

  • After wearing it, you can clean your retainer with a toothbrush, but don’t brush too vigorously. You might scratch it. Use a soft or even extra-soft brush to clean out all the nooks and crannies, and then rinse.
  • Use cleaning products which have been recommended by Drs. Burk and Flinn if your retainer needs a deeper clean. Denture cleaners, retainer cleaners, and even toothpastes can be too abrasive or cause discoloration, so use the products made for your specific retainer.
  • Let your retainer dry before storing it in a dry place after cleaning. Shutting a damp retainer into a closed case provides bacteria with the damp, dark environment they thrive in. (PS—clean your case regularly, too!)
  • One of the benefits of a clear retainer is that it’s almost invisible. And you can help keep it that way by removing it whenever you eat or drink. Your retainer can become stained from colored foods or liquids.

Fixed Retainers

A permanent retainer is a small piece of wire that is custom-fit and bonded to the inside of selected teeth to keep them from shifting. Because food particles and plaque can accumulate around a fixed retainer, brushing after meals and at least twice a day is recommended. Bacteria and plaque cause bad breath, cavities, and tartar buildup, and removing tartar might require removing your retainer.

While a fixed retainer can be tricky to clean, there are techniques and products that make cleaning easier and more effective:

  • An orthodontic toothbrush with a smaller head might reach behind your teeth more comfortably.
  • Don’t forget to floss! Using a floss threader will help you get that wriggly floss behind the retainer and between your teeth.
  • Try a water flosser. These handy devices direct a stream of water right into hard-to-reach places for more thorough cleaning.

If you’re having trouble keeping your retainer clean, our Rockville and Olney, MD orthodontic team can teach you all you need to know about tools and techniques to keep your retainer—and your teeth and gums—healthy. An attractive smile is a great thing. A healthy, attractive smile is even better!

Keeping It Clean—Better for Your Retainer, Better for Your Oral Health!

July 13th, 2022

Now that you’ve graduated from your braces or aligners, you might think you’re finished with orthodontic cleaning tips. Not quite yet! Your retainer needs love, too—not just because it can look or smell “less than appealing” without your help, but because it’s good for your dental health.

Removable Retainers

If you have a Hawley retainer or a clear retainer, cleaning it whenever you remove it is a great idea. Unappetizing white patches mean plaque or mineral deposits from your saliva have dried and hardened on your retainer’s surface. And if you notice an unpleasant taste or odor, it probably means that germs and bacteria have made themselves at home and are growing in and on your appliance.

You don’t want old plaque or new bacteria in your mouth! Here are some ways to keep your retainer clean and fresh:

  • After wearing it, you can clean your retainer with a toothbrush, but don’t brush too vigorously. You might scratch it. Use a soft or even extra-soft brush to clean out all the nooks and crannies, and then rinse.
  • Use cleaning products which have been recommended by Drs. Burk and Flinn if your retainer needs a deeper clean. Denture cleaners, retainer cleaners, and even toothpastes can be too abrasive or cause discoloration, so use the products made for your specific retainer.
  • Let your retainer dry before storing it in a dry place after cleaning. Shutting a damp retainer into a closed case provides bacteria with the damp, dark environment they thrive in. (PS—clean your case regularly, too!)
  • One of the benefits of a clear retainer is that it’s almost invisible. And you can help keep it that way by removing it whenever you eat or drink. Your retainer can become stained from colored foods or liquids.

Fixed Retainers

A permanent retainer is a small piece of wire that is custom-fit and bonded to the inside of selected teeth to keep them from shifting. Because food particles and plaque can accumulate around a fixed retainer, brushing after meals and at least twice a day is recommended. Bacteria and plaque cause bad breath, cavities, and tartar buildup, and removing tartar might require removing your retainer.

While a fixed retainer can be tricky to clean, there are techniques and products that make cleaning easier and more effective:

  • An orthodontic toothbrush with a smaller head might reach behind your teeth more comfortably.
  • Don’t forget to floss! Using a floss threader will help you get that wriggly floss behind the retainer and between your teeth.
  • Try a water flosser. These handy devices direct a stream of water right into hard-to-reach places for more thorough cleaning.

If you’re having trouble keeping your retainer clean, our Rockville and Olney, MD orthodontic team can teach you all you need to know about tools and techniques to keep your retainer—and your teeth and gums—healthy. An attractive smile is a great thing. A healthy, attractive smile is even better!

Interproximal Cavities: The Inside Story

July 6th, 2022

Time to brush! So, you make sure you gently brush the plaque off the outside surfaces of your teeth. You want to present a gleaming smile to the world, after all. And you make sure to brush the inside surfaces as well, because who wants to feel a fuzzy patch of plaque every time their tongue hits their teeth? And, naturally, you remember to clean the tops of your molars, because those crevices make them more cavity-prone than any other surface.

Done? Not quite!

You might be surprised to learn that no matter how well you’ve brushed all the visible surfaces of your teeth, you’ve left quite a bit of enamel untouched—the adjoining, or touching, surfaces of the teeth that sit next to each other.

You’ve probably noticed that your bristles can’t . . . quite . . . reach all the enamel between your teeth (especially between your molars!) when you’re brushing. This means that food particles and plaque have an easier time sticking around. And when the bacteria in plaque are left undisturbed, especially with a banquet of food particles available, they produce acids which gradually eat away at the enamel covering our teeth, creating a cavity.

Here’s where we work in some specific dental vocabulary. “Interproximal” means between the adjoining, or touching, surfaces of the teeth. And an interproximal cavity is a cavity that develops on one of those side surfaces of your teeth.

  • Preventing Interproximal Cavities

Fortunately, prevention is about as basic as it can be—brushing and flossing effectively. Dentists recommend brushing for two minutes at least twice a day and flossing once each day. While most of us are good about keeping up with brushing, sometimes that daily flossing is more a goal than a reality.

But it’s flossing which really does the trick when it comes to interproximal cleaning. If you floss correctly, food particles and plaque are removed from between the teeth and around the gum line—places where bristles just can’t reach.

When you wear braces, though, flossing isn’t quite so basic. Getting that floss just where it needs to be in between brackets and wires and in between teeth can be a challenge!

The good news is there are many products designed just to make flossing easier while you’re in orthodontic treatment:

  • Floss threaders are flexible hoops that help you thread floss behind your wires easily.
  • Precut floss strands use a stiff tip at one end for threading floss through wires.
  • Interproximal brushes are tiny, cone-shaped brushes which can fit between your teeth and braces for precise cleaning.
  • Water flossers eliminate floss altogether, using a pulsing stream of water to clean between and around teeth and braces.

During your next visit to our Rockville and Olney, MD office, Drs. Burk and Flinn can give you tips on how to use any of these tools effectively for cleaner teeth and cleaner braces.

Preventing cavities on the exterior surfaces of your teeth is probably pretty much automatic by now, but don’t forget the potential for stealth decay! If we find signs of erosion on the sides of your teeth, or if your hygienist lets you know that you’ve got a lot of interproximal plaque buildup, work with your dental team to make sure “interproximal cavity” doesn’t become a working part of your dental vocabulary.

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