Many problems with retainers can be solved through prevention. That is, poorly fitting retainers, relapse (teeth getting crooked again), pain and soreness, or other problems may be preventable.
The keys to avoiding retainer problems include: follow retainer wear instructions, keep retainer check appointments, and call the orthodontist if a problem develops.
Wearing a retainer as instructed is the most critical piece of advice. Lack of retainer wear is the number one reason for relapse and shifting of the teeth following the braces. Once the braces are removed and a properly fitting set of retainers is worn as instructed, the teeth have a low tendency for movement. If the retainers are not worn, problems can escalate. Once the teeth shift, the retainer will not fit as well and the teeth then continue to shift even further. If this has happened, an appointment should be made as soon as possible with the orthodontist to see if the retainers will still work or if a new set of retainers are needed. In a worst-case scenario, if the teeth have moved too much, braces would be required to realign the teeth.
Sometimes it is obvious that a retainer is not fitting very well or if the teeth have started to shift significantly. However, many times the changes can be quite subtle. Patients sometimes are unaware that there are problems, especially if the retainers have only recently been given. Sometimes subtle changes can lead to more severe problems if left unchecked. Most orthodontists will schedule retainer check appointments following the braces to watch for these problems and try to catch them early. If problems are detected early, only slight adjustments in the retainer or increased compliance with wearing the retainers may be needed.
As was already mentioned, early detection and management of a retainer problem can dramatically reduce the potential problems. Things to be aware of that might warrant a call to your orthodontist includes: broken or ill-fitting retainer, lost retainer, shifting teeth, overly tight or painful retainer, or a poking wire or plastic.