Lost Your Retainer? Here’s What You Can Do

(GIF: Yahoo Health/Getty Images)

It may have happened when you went to college, or when you moved in to your first place. Maybe you lost it while emptying a lunch tray in the garbage. Perhaps the dog ate it.

No matter where it met its demise, most people eventually lose their retainers soon after their teen years, experts say. Intended for nightly wear after dental cosmetic treatments like braces, retainers keep teeth in place and prevent movement as you get older. 

And yes, you really are supposed to wear a retainer for life. “The bone and tissue that hold your teeth in place are pretty dynamic — teeth have a tendency to move if not held in place, especially with the forces we apply with chewing,” explains New York City cosmetic dentist, Victoria Veytsman, DDS, to Yahoo Health.

But now the retainer is gone, and you may even oddly find yourself missing that “hurts-so-good” pressure you used to feel when you slipped them on. What can be done?

If a straight smile is what you’d like to get or keep, there are some intriguing new possibilities on the market. From a retainer dupe to the latest solution for straightening teeth and preventing movement from grinding, check out these options.

ClearRetain

Cost: $89-$119

(Photo: ClearRetain)

This mail-in system allows you to skip the dentist and take your own teeth impressions at home, which you then mail to the company in a pre-paid box for a custom retainer that arrives in days. At $89 for one retainer or $119 for two (if you need top and bottoms), it’s a fraction of the cost of a professional retainer replacement that can cost several hundred dollars, plus the dentist’s office visit fees. But does it work?

We put the system to the test. A box arrived with three sizes of trays to choose from, for top and bottom teeth. After watching a short instructional video on how to take an impression on ClearRetain’s website, we brushed our teeth to prep, and set to work kneading the impression putty together to create a uniform Pepto pink color. This was fun. The putty then went in the tray, we bit down on it, and started a stopwatch for the prescribed four minutes to allow the putty to set, while trying to avoid drooling and scaring the dog.

After the clock stopped, the tray slowly released from teeth with a sharp dental impression. We packed it up and shipped it out, and a retainer that snapped on effortlessly with that memorable push of gentle pressure arrived just days later. Veytsman emphasizes that you should have realistic expectations with any retainer, as they can only keep teeth in their current place if worn nightly, and cannot move or otherwise straighten teeth. (OK, OK, our expert concedes you can skip a night here or there — but you have to remain very consistent overall to keep your teeth from shifting further in a retainer.)

She also warns that this is a DIY option — and since you’’re not a dentist, there’s no guarantee it’s not error-proof. She recommends seeing your dentist to make a professional retainer — an option that is available at any time.

Invisalign Express

Cost can vary, but the national average is $2,500, or half of regular Invisalign, according to RealSelf.com

(Photo: Instagram/praire_sungirl via Invisalign)

Most people are familiar with the popular option known as Invisalign clear aligners, which are removable but still straighten teeth like traditional braces. A newer offering from the company is Invisalign Express, which takes about half of the time (usually a few months for good candidates), and is alluringly half the cost of the standard treatment. Dentists say it’s become a popular option among a specific subset of patients.

Related: This Is What Happens If You Don’t Brush Your Teeth

“Fifty percent of the patients I see coming in for Invisalign Express had braces in the past, but their teeth have since shifted due to losing or not wearing a retainer,” says Veytsman. The express process is the same as the standard one — it just takes less time. The commitment involves taking initial impressions that are sent to the lab, and you return to the office every two weeks to get new trays that must be worn every day. Retainers are given after completion of the treatment, which, like all retainers, you must wear nightly to maintain results.

Technology also allows you to preview results to make sure you know what to expect before signing on the dotted line. “We create a 3-D computerized image of what your teeth are projected to look like at the consultation,” says Veytsman. You do have to put in the work of actually wearing the braces 22 hours a day — they are only removed when eating. 

LunaGuard

Cost: $45

(Photo: Lunaguard)

A study shows that about 8 percent of the population grind and clench their teeth while sleeping (the medical term for it is “bruxism”), which can create pressure that moves teeth out of place over time. LunaGuard is a new nighttime dental protector that molds to teeth and uses a perforated design made of thermoplastic material to diffuse and absorb the grinding force. It’s 1.6 millimeters thin, which makes it sleeker than other options currently on the bite guard market.

The brands claims that it’s so thin, “it doesn’t impede speaking, drinking or breathing.” While our test of the device certainly didn’t interfere with breathing, we don’t think you’d want this in your mouth if you’re eating or drinking; sleeping should be all that’s on the agenda. And if you’re an especially hard grinder, it’s good to know there’s a six-month warranty to ensure it won’t be chewed or bitten through.

Keep in mind, Veytsman points out that LunaGuard is not designed to keep teeth from moving, as retainers that perform that function must be precise and custom fit to hug the teeth snuggly in order to keep them in place. It could just help mitigate grinding and clenching, which can lead to teeth shifting if you’re not otherwise wearing a retainer regularly. “You should really talk to your dentist about options for grinding and clenching, since it’s important to use a device that addresses your individual issues,” says Veytsman.

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