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Retainers are very important for adults who have lost teeth to wear. Wearing your retainer as per instructions is the best way to ensure that you will achieve the best result possible after orthodontic treatment. The primary function of a retainer is to keep teeth in their corrected positions, preventing them from relapsing back into their original positions. They also prevent shifting of other teeth or worsening of an existing malocclusion or crowding. Retainers are worn 16-20 hours a day, only removing it when eating, brushing, and flossing.

What is a retainer?

A retainer is a stabilizer that is removable or firmly anchored in the mouth – visually similar to a mouthguard commonly found in martial arts.

Orthodontic retainers are used for one of two purposes:

  1. Passive retainer: To retain the new position of your teeth after braces
  2. Active retainer: To correct small orthodontic issues that don’t require braces

retainer teeth

Removable retainers come in a variety of shapes. However, you can also choose from fixed retainers, in which a wire is attached behind the teeth.

The retainer is worn on the inside of the tooth, where it is designed to hold the teeth in their new position.

The reason for the need is an effect called recession:

While braces have already corrected the teeth to the desired position, the body has the urge to slowly regress them to their original position after the braces are released.

  • If this effect is not counteracted, then the teeth can fall back into the original position despite the painstaking treatment. The relapse rate after 10 years here is about 90%.
  • The retainer keeps the teeth in the desired position until they maintain the position even without external influence.

So the retainer here has the task of maintaining the successful treatment with a previously inserted braces.

Retainer vs. braces

Despite this, retainer does not mean braces.

First of all, the retainer is worn on the inside and only the wires necessary for fixation are attached to the corresponding teeth.

retainer vs braces

Retainers are not a replacement for braces, but are placed after treatment with braces has been completed.

Retainers exist in two designs, as briefly mentioned earlier:

  • A removable retainer is worn like a removable brace and can be removed by you at any time. This facilitates, for example, oral hygiene (brushing, flossing).
  • A fixed retainer is bonded directly to the teeth like the previously inserted braces and remains in the mouth for the entire duration of treatment.

But the fixed retainer is not as noticeable as braces, because it is attached to the inside of the teeth.

braces retainer

If you choose a removable retainer, that requires discipline to put it in regularly. With fixed retainers, you don’t have to worry about that.

While the removable retainer is sufficient for most minor to moderate procedures, people often turn to a fixed retainer for severe orthodontic procedures.

Info: “Retainer” is often mistakenly misunderstood as the English word for braces. However, a retainer is a completely separate device, even though its function is very similar to that of braces. A retainer is more likely to be understood as a “brace behind the teeth.”

Cost of a retainer

Depending on the material and effort required for your personal situation, the cost of a retainer can be up to 500 euros. The price minimum is often 200 euros.

Health insurance companies cover the cost of a retainer only in certain cases:

Health insurance companies do not usually cover the costs

Even though health insurance companies agree to provide subsidies for braces, the situation is different for retainers.

retainer cost adult

Only under certain conditions do health insurance companies approve coverage. This is despite the fact that a retainer is recommended in most cases and even has a higher chance of success than removable braces.

In order for the health insurance company to approve your application for reimbursement, you must first meet two requirements:

  • You submit the claim for reimbursement before you order the retainer.
  • The recipient of the retainer is proven to suffer from a mandibular crowding of at least grade 3 (KIG E3).

Only then are health insurance companies willing to cover the cost of the acquisition.

The procedure of a retainer treatment

The procedure always looks the same when a retainer is fitted:

First, an impression is taken, which can be used to fabricate a custom-fit retainer for the patient.

retainer treatment

  • Then the designed retainer is inserted. A removable retainer is thereby inserted similar to a removable brace – the dentist here only checks whether the retainer also fits exactly.
  • A fixed retainer must be glued on. For this, the dentist uses a thin wire tape, which is glued to the teeth. Then the adhesive is cured to prevent slipping or loosening of the retainer.

In both cases, however, there is a special feature for the procedure: The retainer is inserted before the existing braces are loosened.

This is the only way to ensure that the retainer will stabilize the desired position. Otherwise, it can happen that the teeth already shift again in the short time without braces.

The application of a retainer – both fixed and removable – is usually painless. You will feel pressure when the dentist releases the braces and the retainer takes over its role

Duration of retainer treatment

There is also a distinction between loose and fixed retainers when it comes to the duration of a retainer treatment.

retainer how long

  • Generally, a fixed retainer remains in the mouth indefinitely, while the wearing time of a removable retainer can be gradually shortened.
  • However, even with a removable retainer, a wearing duration must be observed that is roughly equivalent to the duration of the previous treatment with braces.

A fixed retainer is regularly evaluated by the dentist to determine if and when removal is appropriate.

remove retainer

To keep your teeth straight, don’t stop treatment with a retainer too soon

With a removable retainer, you can make this decision yourself, but be sure to follow the advice below when doing so:

  • If the retainer feels loose in your mouth, it means that it is no longer actively holding your teeth in place. You can shorten the wearing time a little in this case.
  • But if the retainer feels tight and puts pressure on your teeth, it means that your teeth have shifted again in the meantime. Wear the retainer again more frequently to eliminate this problem.

When in doubt, have your dentist take a look at the retainer and your teeth. He can accurately determine if something is wrong.

Dental care with a retainer in place

With a removable retainer, there are no restrictions when it comes to your dental care. You can simply remove the retainer for cleaning and brush to your heart’s content – even flossing is okay!

retainer dental care

A fixed retainer involves attaching a thin wire to the inside of the teeth. This can limit the use of dental floss. In that case, it’s best to reach for oral irrigators.

Unfortunately, there are a few limitations with a fixed retainer. It is difficult to brush the inside of the teeth thoroughly, and flossing can be more of a problem than a help here.

It is best to use interdental flossers.

In this case, interdental brushes are recommended as an alternative to dental floss. Or better yet, an oral irrigator.

But as far as the actual brushing is concerned, you don’t have to cut back even with a fixed retainer.

Even high-performance appliances such as the SoniCare DiamondClean or the Oral-B Genius 10000 can be used without hesitation.

Summary on retainers, costs & benefits

Retainers are an important tool for preventing teeth from receding into their old misalignment

retainer behind teeth

Without retainers, this so-called recurrence often causes a long-standing treatment with braces to lose its significance again within a few years or months.

  • It is precisely for this reason that it is annoying that health insurance companies only cover the cost of a retainer under certain conditions.
  • With 200 to 500 $, the cost can be quite a bit. Especially since you already had to bear the cost of braces in advance.

Despite this, you should not do without a retainer, as this is almost inevitable for the continued structure of your corrected teeth.

Depending on the severity of your previous orthodontic treatment, the dentist will recommend either a removable retainer or a retainer firmly attached to the teeth.

The latter has a few disadvantages, but offers greater comfort over braces and also makes brushing your teeth a tiny bit easier.