You might think you’re home free after braces are removed, but you’re not quite there yet. After braces there is always an orthodontic retainer. These removable devices complete the straightening process.

Retainers help stop teeth from shifting after your braces come off. They’re custom made to fit your mouth, and are usually made out of plastic or acrylic with metal wires. You’ll probably be advised to wear a retainer full time for six months after your braces come off, and then at nights. But how long you wear it is really up to your orthodontist.

Orem orthodonticsThis doesn’t mean that your braces didn’t straighten your teeth. Your teeth just may not have entirely solidified in their new position. Retainers help your bones, muscles, and gums to fully adjust to the new arrangement. Sometimes retainers are even used to make minor fixes without braces. So you should listen to your orthodontist and wear one.

And not that you’re convinced of their importance, here are a few tips:

1. Think of your retainer like sunscreen. You may not want to wear it, but know you’ll be much better off if you do. Use it full time until Dr. Berg says you can move on to nights only. And when you do take it out, put it in its case. You don’t want it scampering off, or falling into something gross.

2. Remember that your retainer lives in your mouth. Just like your teeth, your retainer should be brushed twice daily. And if you use a special orthodontic cleaner, remember that it can’t replace brushing.

3. Pretend that you have a performance to prepare for. Your retainer might make speaking a bit weird at first. So use your retainer to sing around the house, read to a little cousin, or talk on the phone. Just practice.

4. Treat your retainer like a pair of glasses. Just like eyewear, retainers are fragile (and expensive). So let the professionals take care of it. Your orthodontist should do the adjustments; and you should keep it in its case when you’re not using it.

5. Don’t forget it’s in there. Even though your retainer is fitted to your mouth, you shouldn’t treat it like a permanent fixture. Remove it when you eat and swim. And don’t put it in hot water, on a sunny dashboard, in a washer, on a napkin, or in your jeans pocket. But do bring it to any appointment with a dental professional.