Dental braces and retainers are both essential corrective tools for aligning teeth. Although they complement each other, they look and function differently. Here are the most notable differences between the two.
- A retainer holds the teeth in place after brace removal. Braces put a considerable amount of pressure on the teeth over the treatment period. During this time, the gum tissue experiences some pressure as the teeth shifts into position.
The gum tissue will want to relieve this pressure after brace removal, and this is where retainers play their role. As the body grows and your teeth naturally start to shift, the retainer controls this shifting.
- Dental braces go for about 18-24 months; depending on the patient’s situation. For metal or ceramic braces, springs or elastics placed on the archwires aid the brackets in pulling, pushing, opening or closing the spaces between teeth.
Retainers take much shorter, generally a few months. Retainers hold the teeth in place, allowing the tissue to adapt to this change.
- Braces are permanent within the treatment period, applying continuous pressure to move teeth in a specific direction. As these teeth move, the bone changes shape due to the pressure. Braces are worn at least for 18-24 months of the treatment period, with occasional visits to the dentists to assess the progress.
Retainers are temporary, and part of the last phase of orthodontic treatment. Patients often wear them during the day for a few weeks, removing them during meals, and then only overnight for the next few months.
- Braces exert a significant amount of pressure on the teeth. Depending on the dental condition of the patient, the elastic bands of the braces apply pressure, as the gum tissue slowly shifts the teeth into perfect position. This pressure is more intense as the treatment process begins, but it subsides over time.
Retainers only hold teeth in place, with minimal pressure. Once the dentist inspects and recommends brace removal, the teeth need hold in place. At this time, the tension is not as much, and wearing retainers gets more comfortable with time. Within a few days, you will barely notice them.
- Braces may initially cause pain and irritation. The inner tissues of the mouth are quite sensitive; the brackets and wires may cause discomfort and increased sensitivity, as they rub against the soft tissue. The patient experiences further pain and discomfort as the teeth shift. Soft foods such as pasta and warm rather than icy drinks are the best during this phase.
Retainers are molded into the shape of the mouth’s roof, making them more tolerable with relatively shorter time. Initial discomfort as the tongue feels its way around the metal wire frames soon fades away.
- Braces distribute pressure across individual brackets running on each tooth. Elastics attach to hooks on each bracket of the upper and lower teeth. Over time, they apply pressure to the upper and lower sets to correct irregularities to a perfect fit.
The general shape of the retainers distributes the pressure along the acrylic edge while the metal wire frame holds the teeth in place. This pressure might be intense at first due to the tension from brace removal, but it soon subsides.
- Brace brackets bond on top of each tooth. Orthodontic bands, which are either stainless steel or tooth colored, wrap around each tooth to anchor the brackets. A special dental bonding agent or orthodontic bands are used to attach the brackets on the patient’s teeth. The brackets exert pressure on the teeth, while the elastic band or wire adjusts to aid in aligning the teeth.
Hawley retainers feature metal wireframing and a sturdy acrylic that fits perfectly to the roof of the mouth and can be taken out for sports, eating or special events. Essix retainers are transparent and virtually invisible, covering the entire arch of teeth.
These retainers are removable, save for the bonded retainers cemented to the lower backside of the front teeth.
- Braces are rarely replaceable, as they bond onto the teeth throughout the treatment period; retainers are replaceable depending on the length of the therapy. Retainers wear out much faster than braces. Furthermore, the former easily come off, making it easy to misplace. For these reasons, they are replaced at least twice over the course of treatment.
- The patient eats comfortably with braces on; retainers, on the other hand, are always removed before eating. Since the retainers are temporary, and easily come off, it’s advisable to remove them before eating or when brushing. Light brushing and soaking in a glass mixture of warm water and vinegar loosens possible plaque deposits.
- Braces move gum tissues over the treatment course to bring teeth to their ideal position; retainers then hold the tissues in place for permanency. Braces adjust the position of the teeth by pushing or pulling, to open or close the spaces between the teeth.
As this happens, the elastic gum tissues move and adapt to the pressure to the point the teeth adjust into the right position. Retainers hold this pressure, as the tissues grow more permanently.