Two of the most common questions I get at the consultation appointment in my orthodontic practice in Charlottesville and Staunton center around the need to wear a sports guard during braces treatment, and how long retainer-wear will be recommended after the teeth have been aligned.
If you or your teen is active in sports, the potential for injury can be greater when wearing braces, so a special mouthguard for braces must be worn for protection. When choosing a mouthguard, it is important that players are able to talk and breathe with ease while wearing it so they can be compliant in keeping it in the mouth during the entire game or practice.
Nearly 80% of all traumatic dental injuries occur to the top front teeth, which is why most athletes only wear mouthguards on their top teeth. However, with braces, it is important to wear a mouthguard on the bottom teeth as well. In contact sports, such as basketball and football, mouthguards worn on the bottom teeth will protect athletes’ lips and tongue from getting cut by the edge of the brackets.
Orthodontic mouthguards usually provide a little more room than regular mouthguards to allow for braces and orthodontic movement, as well as offering the same level of protection. The extra width allows the braces to be covered as well as the teeth and gums, while still fitting comfortably and not impeding breathing.
In my practice in Charlottesville and Staunton, I provide orthodontic mouth protectors as part of treatment. These mouthguards provide protection to the upper and lower jaw teeth. If your coach or trainer recommends an enhanced level of protection, as in contact sports, commercially available mouthguards for braces are available at most sporting goods stores. Once the braces are completed and you are wearing a retainer, it is recommended to remove your retainer while playing sports and wear a standard mouthguard.
That brings me to the subject of retainer wear after braces. Our teeth are attached to our gums and surrounding structures through various fibers and
ligaments that keep them tightly anchored in place. However, during orthodontic treatment, these fibrous linkages become loose due to the forces generated by the braces or orthodontic appliances. These fibers and ligaments have memory, and once treatment is completed, they can pull or push the teeth back to their original position unless they are stopped from doing so by wearing a retainer. The body’s memory decreases with time, and it can take up to 7 years for most of the fibers and ligaments to be replaced in the body, so it is important to consistently wear a retainer as recommended.
There are generally two types of retainers: Fixed/Bonded Retainers and Removable Retainers. Fixed Retainers consist of a wire that is bonded to the
tongue side surface of the teeth and can only be removed by a dentist. It is like having braces in place, as you will need to thread floss under the retainer for proper cleaning and avoid biting into hard foods, similar to braces.
Removable Retainers — these retainers can be removed at the will of the patient. I frequently use Essix retainers that cover the teeth like a glove fits your hand. These clear plastic retainers are worn approximately 4 months full time, and then at nighttime only if the full-time wear was meticulously followed. I supervise nighttime wear for 2 years beyond the completion of braces treatment. The additional benefit of Essix retainers is protection offered to prevent the damaging effects of nighttime grinding.
Ultimately, I recommend to all of my patients the benefits of continuing to wear these types of retainers every night for a lifetime. The body changes throughout your life, and the forces from grinding habits can quickly shift teeth and wear down the enamel. Wearing retainers can protect your investment for a lifetime.