After years of hard work, you’ve finally achieved the perfectly straight smile you’ve always wanted. When you smile at yourself in the mirror, a gleaming row of pearly whites smile back, and you couldn’t be happier with how your orthodontic work turned out.

Now that you’ve invested so much time and care into your teeth, you want to ensure they retain their perfect alignment for as long as possible. To help you achieve this goal, most orthodontists craft custom removable retainers that their patients wear at night. In some cases, though, your orthodontist might recommend that you use a permanent retainer to stave off future problems.

Since you’ve never had a permanent retainer before, you might wonder what it is, how it works, and whether you should actually get one. In our blog below, we’ll tell you a little bit more about why your orthodontist might recommend this device, and then we’ll tell you how to properly care for the teeth it attaches to once you have one.

What Is a Permanent Retainer?

When you hear the words “permanent retainer,” you might envision the typical removable retainers that people wear to bed. Removable retainers are often large and clunky, and they usually contain a plastic piece that spreads over your entire upper palate. The thought of a permanent fixture like this one might seem a little scary.

Actually, permanent retainers are much smaller than removable retainers. They don’t have any extraneous plastic parts. Instead, they’re comprised of a thin wire that runs behind your teeth. A dentist cements the wire to the backs of your teeth to hold it in place.

No one will be able to see your permanent retainer, and you’ll only be able to feel it if you run your tongue along the back of your teeth. The sensation might take a few days to get used to, but after a while, your permanent retainer will simply feel like a natural part of your mouth. You won’t even notice it’s there, and neither will anyone else.

Permanent retainers usually go along the backs of your front bottom teeth. These teeth are prone to shifting back into place after orthodontic work, so if you want to maintain a perfect row of bottom teeth, a permanent retainer might be the perfect solution. Your orthodontist or dentist could recommend a permanent retainer for your bottom teeth and a removable retainer for your top teeth.

You might not like the idea of having a permanent appliance in your mouth. But don’t worry-you might not need to have a permanent retainer for the rest of your life. Some orthodontists recommend that you have them removed after 10 to 15 years. Talk to your orthodontist about the projected time frame for your permanent retainer.

How Does a Permanent Retainer Affect Your Teeth?

Some orthodontists and dentists are more hesitant about placing permanent retainers than others. A permanent retainer can make it harder for you to floss your front teeth. Flossing them is still very doable-but because it’s slightly harder to do, some patients neglect their teeth, which leads to decay.

Many dentists would prefer for you to have slightly crooked teeth than cavity-filled teeth. However, if your dentist is confident that you can take care of your teeth, he or she might recommend a permanent retainer anyway. Plus, having crooked teeth can make flossing just as hard as having a permanent retainer-straight teeth will likely be better for you in the long run.

Ultimately, if you have a permanent retainer, you’ll just need to spend a little extra time taking care of your bottom teeth to prevent decay. Your dentist can give you more specific instructions, but in general, you should take the following steps to keep your bottom teeth looking and feeling their best.

1. Brush Twice a Day

You should always follow this rule, but if you have a permanent retainer, you should take particular care to adhere to it. Spend extra time brushing gently around your permanent retainer-make sure you remove any pieces of food that got caught in between the brackets.

2. Use Floss Threaders

Your permanent retainer’s wire prevents you from using a piece of floss to reach in between your teeth. Instead, you’ll have to thread the floss in between each tooth to remove debris that gets stuck between them.

This process is much easier than it sounds: you simply need a floss threader to weave the floss beneath the wire and through the spaces in between your teeth. Your dentist can show you how to do this at your semi-annual cleaning. A packet of floss threaders should cost you no more than a dollar, but your dentist can also provide you with a packet at your six-month checkup.

3. Visit Your Dentist Frequently

You should make sure to visit your dentist every six months so he or she can remove the deposits that build up on all your teeth, including in the areas around your bottom teeth. You can’t remove this calculus on your own, and without removal by a professional, it can lead to cavities.

Since a permanent retainer makes your teeth harder to clean on your own, you should never neglect your semi-yearly visit if you want to preserve your bottom teeth.

Talk to Your Dentist With Further Questions

If you have a permanent retainer, you can look forward to years of beautiful, straight teeth. Just make sure to follow the instructions above to ensure that your teeth stay cavity-free as well as perfectly straight.

Have further questions about taking care of your teeth? Don’t hesitate to ask your dentist or orthodontist. To get more advice about caring for your teeth, check our blog for frequent updates.