At Tilghman Orthodontics, we pride ourselves on finding the perfect treatments for our patients to help them reach their orthodontic goals. As perfectionists in our craft, we want each of our patients to have the best experience possible and have created an office environment that reflects that. One of the most important stages of treatment is the final stage: retention.

We love seeing our patients finish their orthodontic treatment and enjoy that moment when they get to see their new, improved smiles for the first time. Once the braces come off, or you complete the final stage of your Invisalign treatment, the retention phase begins. It's designed to help you protect that amazing smile you’ve worked so hard to achieve; it involves wearing an orthodontic appliance called a custom-made retainer, every night for the rest of your life.

Why Do I Need to Wear a Retainer?

The answer is simple: If you don’t wear a retainer, your teeth will shift back into their old positions, making all the time, effort, and money you spent in treatment go to waste! Your teeth are not set rigidly in the jawbone, but are instead held together by network of fibers called the periodontal ligaments. At the completion of treatment, it takes several months for these ligaments to adjust to the new positions your teeth are in. The retainer will help hold your teeth in place, as they settle into their permanent positions.

Being fitted for a retainer usually happens on the same day your braces come off, or when you’re finished wearing your Invisalign aligners. Once we clean your teeth thoroughly, we make take another set of X-rays and/or impressions of your bite to check how well your appliances worked and to see how much your wisdom teeth have developed. If you have any questions about retention, this is the perfect time to ask!

Three Types of Retainers

At Tilghman Orthodontics, we use three types of retainers to make sure we have one that’s right for every patient we treat.

Types of orthodontic retainers.
  • Hawley Retainer – The most common type of retainer is the Hawley retainer. This is a thin, tongue-shaped piece of acrylic that is molded to fit your mouth, with a wire that works to hold your teeth in place. This is a very simple, durable and easily-removed retainer that can even be personalized by choosing a color and design you like for the plastic arch.
  • Clear Aligner – Another popular style of retainer is the clear aligner-type that looks similar to an Invisalign aligner. This type of retainer is made of thin, transparent plastic and is designed to fit snugly over your teeth. The main advantage to this type of retainer is that it is very discreet, with no wire showing. Even though the clear aligner-type of retainer is easy to remove like the Hawley retainer, it is less durable. That’s why we don’t recommend this type of retainer to patients who grind their teeth.
  • Fixed Retainer – Just as the name implies, a fixed retainer is not removable. This type of retainer is most often used on the lower front teeth. Fixed retainers are not visible as they are bonded to the tongue-side of the teeth. If you are fitted with a fixed retainer, it may need to remain in place for several months or even longer. We often recommend fixed retainers to our patients who have teeth that are at high risk for moving back into their former positions.

Getting Used to Your Retainer

For most patients, it takes a few days to get used to wearing a retainer. Some patients find that they produce more saliva than usual for a day or so after first wearing a retainer. This is a completely normal reaction to a foreign object being placed in the mouth. It is also normal to find it a bit more difficult to speak clearly at first, but that problem will iron itself out with time and a bit of practice speaking out loud. Of course, removable retainers should always be taken out when eating and when brushing and flossing.

In the beginning, you will most likely be told to wear your removable retainer all day long, including while you sleep. This period of around-the-clock retainer wear will generally last for several months to a year. After that, we may tell you that you only need to wear your retainer at night. 

Taking Care of Your Retainer


It is important to keep your retainer clean, fresh, and germ-free. This requires some proper cleaning. A Hawley retainer can be brushed gently with a regular toothbrush. If you have a clear aligner-type of retainer, brushing it with a toothbrush is not recommended as it can scratch the material the retainer is made of. Instead of brushing, you can clean an aligner-type retainer using a denture or retainer cleaner. To clean a fixed retainer, you simply brush and floss as you normally do. Many patients wearing fixed retainers find that a floss threader or interproximal brush comes in handy for making it easier to clean between the teeth.

It is important to put your removable retainer into its case when it’s not in your mouth. This way, you’ll be less likely to damage it or toss it in the trash in a folded napkin by mistake. And be sure not to expose your retainer to excessive heat and don’t use hot water when cleaning it so it doesn’t become warped.

Questions? Contact Tilghman Orthodontics Today!

At Tilghman Orthodontics, we’re committed to providing you with the best orthodontic care from your first visit with us all the way through to the retention phase of your treatment! We have two office locations in Salisbury and Berlin, MD, and we can be reached at 410-742-4813. You can also request an appointment online and one of our staff members will reach out to confirm. We look forward to meeting you soon!