The Science Behind Braces and Retainers

Sep 06, 2023
The Science Behind Braces and Retainers
When you think of straightening teeth or addressing flaws with your smile, you probably think about braces or aligners. But did you know retainers are just as important? Read on to learn more about the science behind braces and retainers.

The embarrassing days of putting up with metal mouth and headgear to get the smile you always dreamed about are thankfully long gone. Orthodontics has changed so much in the past couple of decades that it’s even possible to go through treatment without others knowing you are.

The advent of clear aligners and contemporary braces with numerous material options have in most cases drastically changed the treatment experience for patients. What hasn’t changed, says Dr. Jean Seibold McGill at McGill Orthodontics in Easton and Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, is the science behind braces and their sometimes underappreciated sidekick, retainers.

Braces and retainers: The dynamic duo

In today’s orthodontics world, when you think about braces you probably think about the end result — your beautiful new smile. Or perhaps you consider all the seemingly endless options like traditional metal braces, clear braces, or clear aligners.

However, maybe the most important part of orthodontic treatment, and often the most challenging for patients, is wearing a retainer to support all your hard work. Let’s jump into this discussion by explaining the important role braces and retainers play in your orthodontics treatment plan and the science behind them.

Braces create optimal teeth alignment

Braces typically get all the credit when it comes to straightening teeth and correcting alignment issues like underbites, overbites, and problems with crowding. But how do braces really work? It all comes down to two odd-sounding bone cells – osteoclasts and osteoblasts.

Through the course of your orthodontics treatment, your braces or clear aligners create gentle pressure to move your teeth into optimal position. During this gentle movement process, osteoclasts break down old bone, which is reabsorbed into your bloodstream. 

Once your teeth are in their new positions, osteoblasts take control and build new bone through a process called ossification.

Ossification creates a secure and strong foundation for your teeth in their new optimal positions and works in coordination with your jawbone to reinforce the entire process. Essentially, every time you chew and bite, osteoblasts kick into high gear to strengthen your bone.

Retainers maintain your new smile

The day you get your braces off or your orthodontist says you can retire that last set of clear aligners is always a day to celebrate your new smile. But did you know that retainers are the part of the process that literally seals the deal?

As the name suggests, retainers are custom-made dental appliances composed of metal, plastic, or a combination of the two that “retain” or hold your teeth in their new positions after active orthodontic treatment ends. In a majority of cases, your retainer will be a removable appliance, but your retainer can’t perform its function if you don’t wear it.

Although the specifics of how long you need to wear your retainer differs from patient to patient, most orthodontists agree that retainers can’t be worn too much or for too long. Non-compliance exponentially increases the likelihood of your teeth shifting back into their original positions.

Your orthodontist provides instructions and recommendations for wearing your retainer. Do yourself a favor and follow them. You may need to wear your retainer 24 hours a day for 2-3 months, except when you're eating. After that many patients are weaned off daytime wear to only overnight wear while you’re sleeping.

If you get lax in wearing your retainer and find it no longer fits comfortably, simply let your orthodontist know so you can get refitted for a new one. The time will be worth the effort. After all, you worked really hard to get that smile you’ve always wanted, wearing your retainer as directed is your ticket to preserving it for a lifetime.

If you’re ready to start your journey to your best smile ever, contact McGill Orthodontics to schedule a free orthodontic consultationCall our office most convenient to you or request your appointment online today.