Does your child need a dental retainer?

The retainer will assist in adjusting the teeth. - Photo

Does your child have a gap in his teeth or crooked teeth? Have you been thinking of braces and a retainer?

Retainers assist in adjusting the teeth to close gaps and realign them. Children are recommended to start wearing them at around the age of six or seven.

To find out more, here is a quick Q&A:

What are retainers?

A retainer is a piece of plastic and metal that is custom-made for each individual child (or adult) who needs one. The retainer fits the top of the teeth and mouth.

No two retainers are alike, even though they all look the same. There are four types of retainers that are usually prescribed by an orthodontist or dentist:

* hawley – Widely prescribed, it consists of a plastic base with metal wires that can be adjusted.
* essix – Made of PVC and is less expensive and easier to clean and wear, but not as durable.
* zendura – Looks more natural; crack, chip and stain resistant; durable.
* bonded (fixed) – Cannot be removed by patient; cemented to the back of the teeth to keep them in place.

The most common retainer that is used widely by both adults and children is the hawley retainer.

It consists of a plastic base that is adjusted to fit the shape of your mouth. This is then connected to a wire that wraps around your teeth and helps keep them in place.

Some retainers, like the hawley version, are removable. However, there are retainers that are bonded behind your teeth and these are only removable by an orthodontist. There are certain retainers that are made of clear plastic and metal wires, while others are made of rubber.

Who needs to use a retainer?

Retainers are usually used after an individual has had their braces removed. This can be recommended to both adults and children.

Most orthodontists will suggest wearing a retainer to hold your teeth in position after the braces are removed. The retainer will assist in adjusting the teeth surrounded by gums as well as to adapt to changes that may occur in the bones in your mouth.

Take your child to an orthodontist to find out if he needs to wear a retainer.

Retainers are also used after any form of surgery that has been done to realign or readjust your teeth. Aside from that, retainers can also be used to close gaps in teeth and help with speech problems.

Another common usage for a retainer is to help children with temporomandibular disorder (TMD). This disorder is usually the result of a bite problem (teeth that don't meet together when jaws are closed.) It is called malocclusion or bruxism, which results in the grinding of teeth in your sleep.

Grinding of the teeth can stretch the muscles and joints in your mouth, thus causing a lot of pain and discomfort. Headaches can occur, too.

Using a retainer can help by preventing the mouth from closing completely at night and will keep a child from grinding their teeth in their sleep. The child may need to use the retainer for this issue for a long period of time, until there are significant changes in their teeth development.

Another issue where a retainer can come in useful is when a child develops a tongue thrust. This is an issue where the tongue sneaks between the teeth when they talk. Normally, our tongues are designed to go to the roof of the mouth when we speak. By wearing a retainer the tongue can be trained to go toward the roof of the mouth instead of sneaking between the teeth.

These retainers are known as a crib or tongue cage retainers and are designed with small metal bars that hang down from the roof of your mouth. The length of time a child needs to wear this retainer varies and depends entirely on the child's development.

At what age should a child be considered for braces or retainers?

There isn't a specific age. Treatment plans usually depend on each individual child's needs. In cases where kids are born with cleft palates, they may require orthodontic appliances before their first teeth show.

Some kids might benefit from the treatment at the ages of six and seven and even if they have not lost all of their baby / milk teeth.

The idea is to prevent issues from arising in the future. This will create a better environment for the permanent teeth to grow, when the time comes.

Are there more attractive retainers?

Today, retainers come in several shapes and even colours, making them more attractive and user-friendly to children.

There are even glow in the dark retainers that can be customised! Pictures or stickers can be stuck on the retainers so they are more attractive to a kid.

Some retainers can come in pretty shapes, too. This makes it easier for a child to get accustomed to his or her retainer. However these retainers are rather expensive, of course.

Since the retainers are so attractive, they could be an issue for a child in school, as other kids may want to try them on, or even steal them. Hence, some orthodontists advise to only get retainers made for kids when they are responsible enough to care for their retainers.

How long should children wear retainers?

There are several time lengths and most of them depend on the severity in the treatment of each individual child. For example, one may need to wear the retainer all day for three months and subsequently only at night.

Some doctors may also recommend children wear their retainers only at night. However, this may mean that they will have to wear it for a longer period of time - possibly a year or longer.

A child is likely not to feel the retainer in their mouth while sleeping, thus allowing them to be comfortable throughout the night.

When a child wears a retainer for the first time, they may feel uneasy and uncomfortable. The feeling of pressure or even gum soreness will occur. This is completely normal – for the first few days, at least. However, if the issue persists, parents are strongly encouraged to visit the orthodontist for further advice. A child may not only suffer from sleepless nights, but also lose their appetite.

How do you get a retainer custom-made?

When a retainer is prescribed to a kid, they will need to visit the orthodontist for a fitting.

A material known as alginate is used. Alginate is a chewy, and thick liquid substance that makes a mould of your teeth when you bite into it. The fitting process is fast, painless and doesn't even taste bad!

This foreign item may feel strange at first when it is placed in the mouth. Kids will eventually get used to it. However, if there is continued pressure, parents are advised to bring their child in to see the orthodontist. Parents should monitor their children and ensure there is no bleeding or extreme discomfort.

How can children get used to retainers?

The hardest part of wearing a retainer, is getting used to talking with it in your mouth. Some kids may be teased about it at school or among siblings and friends.

Children should try talking slowly at first. It's a good way to get used to the retainer. Soon, you won't even notice you have a retainer on anymore!

There might also be an increased saliva flow in the first few days of wearing the retainer. Hence, it may cause a child to drool. This is also completely normal and will stop as the days go by.

What are the do's and don'ts when using a retainer?

Don't eat the following types of food when using a retainer:
Ice, nuts, popcorn, hard candy, chewing gum, or chewy candy. Anything with caramel in them such as certain chocolate bars is also a big no. Even gummy candies or anything that will get stuck in the retainer is to be avoided.

Don't continue using the retainer if there is an allergy. Some children can form an allergy to stainless steel or even the plastic or the substances used to make the retainers. Speak to your orthodontist as soon as your child complains of extreme pressure, swells, redness, abscess, blisters, ulcers or anything out of the ordinary. Visit the orthodontist or dentist as soon as possible if any of this occurs.

Don't remove the retainers and throw them around or drop them! If a crack is found in the retainer it can be dangerous. This will cause realignments in your child's mouth and teeth will grow out of place and may require you to repeat the entire treatment.

Do clean the retainer daily by brushing it with a toothbrush in warm water. This is only for the hawley retainers. Essix retainers may be soaked with cleansing products or denture cleaners as these retainers are more delicate and may be damaged if a toothbrush is used.

Do always remember to rinse the retainers first before placing them in the mouth. Remember, that these are items you put into your child's mouth, hence they need to be clean and bacteria free!

Don't wash the retainers with hot water or leave them near a heat source to prevent them from warping.

Do continue to visit the dentist / orthodontist regularly during the period of using the retainer. The dental hygienists may use ultrasonic cleaning methods to blast away dental calculus deposits that you can't remove on your own.

Don't share the retainer with anyone! This is extremely unhygienic!

Don't leave the retainers outside of the casing provided by the dental hygienists. If you are removing them for any reason at all, carry the casing with you.

Don't leave them exposed on a table on the floor or in an area that is dusty.

Do remove the retainer when participating in sports that require a mouth-guard or while swimming.

Don't lose the retainer as they don't come cheap!

Our teeth is one of the most important part of our body systems. Teeth is used for chewing and biting into food that later translates to nutritional needs that the body requires. So, parents should ensure their children grow up with strong teeth and gums. Regular visits to the dental hygienists is strongly recommended and not only when your child develops a problem with their teeth.

Sources: A local orthodontist,,,

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