5 Reasons to Steer Clear of So-Called "Permanent" Retainers

5 Reasons to Steer Clear of So-Called “Permanent” Retainers

Dec 9, 2022 | News

A lot of people ask me about fixed retainers. At first glance, fixed retainers may seem like a great idea. But at Ortho Arts, we prefer to use removable retainers. It’s not just that they’re more convenient—fixed retainers won’t hold all your teeth in place like removable retainers. This means all that time and money you spent getting and wearing braces will have been wasted.

Our treatments are designed to give you a beautiful smile that lasts as long as you want to maintain it, which is why we prefer a removable retainer. It’s simply the best option for you and your smile.

Here are 5 reasons why I don’t usually recommend using fixed retainers.

1. They break.

Fixed retainers have a habit of breaking when it’s least convenient. When they do, that means you’ll need to come in for a visit to get your retainer repaired or replaced. These extra visits can be expensive, not to mention time-consuming for everyone. After all, you just got your braces off! The last thing you want to do is come in for another ortho appointment.

2. They can move teeth in horrible ways.

Usually lingual wires just break, which is inconvenient. But under certain conditions, the wire can become distorted, twisted, or bent, causing it to start moving teeth instead of keeping them in place. If left unchecked, this can lead to tooth loss.

Here’s an example. The photos below show the teeth of a woman who’d completed orthodontic treatment three years earlier, and gone quite some time without routine checkups with her general dentist. By the time she finally came in, her teeth had moved so far out of alignment that roots were outside of bone. The correction took longer than the original treatment, and the damage couldn’t be completely undone.

The moral of the story is, if you have a fixed retainer, make sure you’re seeing your dentist regularly, and if something isn’t right, have it checked out.

3. They only keep the teeth straight that they’re attached to.

Fixed retainers aren’t usually attached to every single one of your teeth. They may hold the teeth they’re bound to in place but won’t hold all the others they’re not attached to. As an example, here’s a short horror story.

A patient came in for a consultation, very upset. He’d had 6+ years of orthodontic treatment plus double jaw surgery. His previous orthodontist had put a fixed retainer on his lower teeth and told him it would hold all his teeth in place. Forever. End of story. Removable retainers, said the orthodontist, weren’t necessary.

Unfortunately, things didn’t work out quite like the patient had been told. His teeth had moved, and he needed re-treatment. Needless to say, he was not happy.

In other words, you’ll still have to wear a removable retainer to keep your other teeth straight, even with a fixed retainer. Who wants to do that?

4. They’re a hygiene hassle.

Because they’re not removable, fixed retainers are much harder to keep clean. You can take out a removable retainer and wash it in the sink, then brush and floss your teeth before putting it back in again. But you must carefully floss under a fixed retainer, which can be very tricky. They’re also tough for your hygienist to clean around without breaking it, which means another visit for repair.

5. Your diet is much more limited.

With a removable retainer, you can eat anything you want. But because you can’t remove a fixed retainer, you must be much more careful about your diet. The wrong foods can break or bend the wires, causing you to need a repair or replacement, and making the teeth move in horrible ways (see image). 

Teeth that have shifted out of place after a fixed retainer

Removable retainers: the intelligent choice

At the end of the day, we use removable retainers because they’re easier and more convenient for you. They’ve been proven to work better at keeping your teeth straight and reducing the need for re-treatment later. True, removable retainers do require a little upkeep, and they do need to be replaced regularly. But they don’t come with the risks and hassle that fixed retainers do.

There is one exception: in some cases, you may need fixed retainers to keep spaces closed or keep really rotated teeth from relapsing. In those cases, we always recommend night-time removable retainers to keep the rest of the teeth straight, and to serve as a backup in case the wire breaks.