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Updated on October 3, 2022

Types of Retainers After Braces

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What are Retainers?

After orthodontic treatment, teeth can move back into their original positions due to growth-related factors affecting the gums and tissues of the periodontal ligament

This is where retainers come in. These custom-made orthodontic appliances are designed to maintain the new position of your teeth after treatment. 

Getting older can also affect tooth movement. Because of this risk, retainers are necessary to ensure teeth stay straight long-term.

How Long Should You Wear Retainers?

Though each person may vary slightly, typically, orthodontists recommend that you wear your retainers nightly for the rest of your life. Doing so prevents relapse or movement of the teeth back to their original positions. 

When are Retainers Necessary After Braces or Aligners?

Braces are the most common orthodontic treatment used to correct misaligned teeth and reposition the jaw. There are a few different types of orthodontic braces, including traditional, clear, and lingual.

After treatment is complete, an orthodontist makes a mold of your or your child's newly straightened teeth. Then a technician makes a fixed or removable retainer to keep the teeth in alignment.

Clear aligners (invisible aligners) are a removable type of orthodontic treatment that correct less severe cases of misaligned or crooked teeth. Invisible aligners are a flexible and convenient alternative to braces. 

A new set of aligners is sent to your house or made at a dentist’s office every 1 to 2 weeks and must be worn 22 hours a day. Like braces, retainers are custom-made for each patient after treatment to keep the teeth in alignment.

Why are Retainers Important?

Once braces are removed, teeth can move back into their old position. Retainers ensure your teeth and gums stay in place after removing braces to prevent relapse and reversal of orthodontic treatment. 

What are Relapse and Retention?

Maintaining teeth in their corrected locations after treatment can be very difficult. Relapse can occur if the devices aren’t worn correctly or for the right amount of time each day.

Relapse

Relapse is when your teeth return, partially or completely, to their original misaligned positions after successful orthodontic treatment.

Retention

Retention is the phase of treatment after removing braces or clear aligners. It minimizes the risk of relapse.

A small amount of relapse is common if your or your child's teeth were severely misaligned before orthodontic treatment. This is typically nothing to worry about because minor relapse does not affect overall function or esthetics. 

If only mild misalignment was present before treatment, relapse should not occur. Patients should also be made aware of their relapse risk before treatment.

2 Types of Retainers

A few different types of retainers are available, including fixed (metal) and removable (clear) retainers. The type of retainer needed depends on the patient’s risk of relapse, original malocclusion (teeth misalignment), and growth pattern.

How long and how often an orthodontic retainer must be worn is different for everyone. The only way to guarantee teeth positioning is to wear a retainer indefinitely.

1. Fixed Retainers

Fixed retainers consist of a metal wire cemented to the back of your front teeth. The wire typically extends from canine to canine.

You cannot remove fixed retainers at home. Only your orthodontist can remove the device in-office. Also, fixed retainers do not affect eating or speaking abilities. 

After a few days of wear, you should not be able to feel it, though they may be more challenging to keep clean.

Orthodontists usually give patients backup removable retainers in case the fixed retainers fail, or you have a high risk for relapse (when the teeth move back into their original position before treatment).

2. Removable Retainers

Removable retainers are clear or metal appliances that only need to be worn at night. Unlike fixed appliances, you can remove these retainers at any time.

Removable retainers are easy to maintain and do not impact your oral health as they can be removed, and you can use your toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss without any modifications. Often, they do affect speech when in use. 

Clear retainers are the best option for patients who can wear a retainer part-time and do not have a high risk for relapse.

There are three different types of removable retainers, including:

Hawley Retainers (Wire Retainers)

Hawley Retainers, also called wire retainers, consist of a metal wire and an acrylic base. After orthodontic treatment, these retainers keep the six anterior teeth in the correct position.

Hawley retainers do not interfere with your natural tooth contact and are often more comfortable than clear retainers.

hawley retainer scaled e1599676010280

Essix Retainers (Clear Retainers)

Essix Retainers, also called clear retainers, are made of a slim, clear plastic material. These retainers hold the teeth in place after clear aligner treatment or braces.

Clear retainers can cause more discomfort than Hawley (metal) retainers because your teeth will not touch naturally.

clear aligners NewMouth

A Vivera retainer is another clear retainer that holds the teeth in place after Invisalign treatment. This retainer is made exclusively for Invisalign patients.

How Much Do Retainers Cost?

The average cost of orthodontic retainers:

  • Hawley retainers cost $150 to $300 for one or up to $600 per set.
  • Essix retainers cost $125 to $300 for one or up to $500 per set.
  • Vivera (Invisalign) retainers can cost as low as $660 for four sets.
  • Permanent (bonded) retainers cost $150 to $500 for one or up to $1,000 per set. Bonded retainers are usually included in the treatment price if done at an orthodontist's office.

Retainers FAQs

Do you have to wear a retainer forever?

How long you must wear a retainer is different for everyone. However, the only way to guarantee teeth positioning is to wear a retainer at least part-time for the rest of your life.

Are clear or metal retainers better?

Clear retainers can cause more discomfort than Hawley (metal) retainers because your teeth will not touch naturally. Hawley retainers are often more comfortable and do not interfere with your natural tooth contact. 

Both retainers can interfere with speech when in use and must be removed for eating and cleaning.

Permanent retainers cannot be felt or seen and do not disrupt eating or speaking abilities. However, they are prone to plaque buildup over time, making your oral hygiene routine more challenging.

How long do clear retainers last?

Clear plastic retainers need to be replaced every 2 to 6 years, while metal (Hawley) retainers can last 5 to 10 years. Permanent retainers can last up to 20 years with proper care.

How to keep a removable retainer clean?

After eating, rinse your retainers and brush your teeth.  Soak your retainer in distilled water with baking soda or castile soap. To keep it fresh, you can also soak your retainer in vinegar or over-the-counter cleaning tablets once a week.

6 Sources Cited
Last updated on October 3, 2022
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Cobourne, Martyn T., and Andrew T. DiBiase. Handbook of Orthodontics E-Book. Elsevier, 2015.
  2. Littlewood, Sj, et al. “Retention and Relapse in Clinical Practice.” Australian Dental Journal, 2017.
  3. “Orthodontic Treatment Options.” American Association of Orthodontists, www.aaoinfo.org/orthodontic-treatment-options/.
  4. Proffit, William R., et al. Contemporary Orthodontics. Elsevier/Mosby, 2019.
  5. Tysons West Orthodontics & Children’s Dentistry. “Why Retainers After Orthodontic Treatment are VERY IMPORTANT,www.tysonswestortho.com.
  6. Kartal Y, Kaya B. “Fixed Orthodontic Retainers: A Review,” Turk J Orthod., 2019.
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