If you or someone you know has had braces in the past, chances are you're aware of dental retainers. These devices are often given to patients by orthodontists, and they bear a strong resemblance to invisible braces. If you're wondering if invisible braces are the same as retainers, here's what you should know.
Once upon a time, retainers and braces were both made out of a combination of metal and hard plastics. However, as technology and materials have improved, retainers have become more commonly made out of a thin layer of clear plastic that wraps over the teeth from front to back. Braces, too, now come in an invisible variety that also looks very similar to this type of retainer.
Both retainers and invisible braces can be taken off as needed, which makes them convenient for people whether they're seeking straightening now or are just maintaining their results. However, this is where the majority of the similarities end.
Retainers, as the name implies, are designed to maintain and retain something, rather than setting it themselves. Some people are given retainers prior to getting braces, but this is generally done for children to stabilize the movement of the teeth while other preparations are made or while their jaws are still growing. For adults, retainers are most often given when they've completed their braces treatment. At this stage, retainers are only worn at night in order to help keep the teeth in their position. Without retainers, it's possible for the teeth to start shifting again, and as a result, you could lose some of your progress.
While invisible braces look similar, they perform a different function. Invisible braces are designed to straighten your teeth on their own, rather than serving as a precursor or supplement to traditional braces.
Invisible braces are often made out of a stiffer material than retainers while still maintaining the invisible look. This helps them to maintain a firm grip on teeth so that they move in the direction your orthodontist wants. In addition, you can expect to go through several pairs of invisible braces during the extent of your treatment, with each one gradually moving your teeth closer to the desired position.
The one commonality invisible braces share with retainers after your treatment is over is that the last pair of invisible braces continues to be worn at night. It essentially serves as a retainer at this point, so you don't need an extra piece of hardware.
While these two devices share some similarities, each has a unique purpose. Talk to an orthodontist if you want to know more.