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Types of Retainers: Pros and Cons

Types of Retainers: Pros and Cons
It's exciting to finally get your braces off and move into the retainer stage. Here are a few things you should know about the different types of retainers.

A retainer keeps your teeth in place after your braces come off. It takes almost a year for the periodontal ligaments to solidify into their new positions after your braces are removed. That's why you need to wear your retainer exactly as your orthodontist directs. If you slack off or stop wearing it, your teeth could shift and get crooked again, or gaps could open up.

Most orthodontists tell their patients to wear their retainer 24/7 for a certain number of months, and then wear it only at night. After a few years, you could reduce that to a few nights per week. But don't stop wearing it completely, or you may get an unpleasant surprise one day when you try to pop it back in, and it won't fit anymore!

At first your retainer may feel strange and uncomfortable in your mouth. Be sure to tell your orthodontist if any parts are sticking or gagging you, because he can make adjustments to your retainer so that it is more comfortable. You may find that you lisp or speak a little strangely when you first start wearing your retainer. Don't get discouraged; within about a month you will get used to it and your speech will improve.

There are three basic types of retainers:
  • Hawley Retainers, made of metal and acrylic
  • Essix Retainers, made of clear plastic (they look like Invisalign aligners)
  • Permanent Retainers, which are glued to the back of your teeth


Check out our video about the types of removable retainers and how to clean them properly!

Hawley Retainer - This type of retainer is made of bendable wire and acrylic or plastic. The wire goes across the front of your teeth, and the acrylic is molded to fit perfectly inside your mouth. Hawley retainers are available in a large variety of colors and styles, so you can have a little fun with them by adding sparkles or patterns. This type of retainer is adjustable so that your orthodontist can “tweak” your teeth a little bit after braces.

Pros - Adjustable. Allows teeth to touch in a natural way. Lasts a long time with proper care. Easy to clean.
Cons - It is very noticeable. You might lisp at first when wearing it.

Essix Retainer – This type of retainer is made of molded clear plastic and resembles an Invisalign aligner. People like this type of retainer because it is less noticeable than a Hawley retainer. However, it doesn't allow your top and bottom teeth to touch in a natural way. Because of this, some orthodontists don't like this type of retainer. Essix retainers also have a shorter lifespan than Hawley retainers. On average, they begin to wear out after a few years, and then need to be replaced.

Pros - Virtually invisible on the teeth.
Cons - Does not allow the teeth to touch in a natural way. Wears out after a few years. Can be difficult to keep the interior surfaces clean. Traps liquid against the teeth.

Permanent Bonded Retainer – This type of retainer stays in your mouth all the time, because it is bonded (glued) to the back of your teeth. Usually this type of retainer is placed behind the six front lower teeth. Sometimes orthodontists may start you with a bonded retainer, and switch you to a Hawley or Essix retainer after six month to one year. It can be very difficult to floss the teeth which are bonded; you will need to use Threader Floss to do it correctly.

Pros – Retains teeth well. Cannot be seen by other people.
Cons – Difficult to floss. May cut or bother your tongue. May require dental wax to be comfortable at times.

No matter what type of retainer you have, remember to keep it clean. We sell several different types of retainer cleaners for removable retainers. And don't forget to use a good sturdy retainer case! We carry a large selection of retainer cleaners and retainer cases at DentaKit.com. Click on the links below to see them!

Keep Smiling!


About The Author

Lynn S. is the founder and owner of DentaKit.com. Shortly after getting braces in 2001 at age 41, Lynn realized that there was no convenient way for her to find the orthodontic products she needed locally. She created DentaKit.com to give orthodontic patients easy access to products that would help keep their braces and retainers clean and comfortable. Along the way, she also created ArchWired.com and its Metal Mouth Message Board to provide vital information and an online community for adults who have orthodontic braces.

Lynn has a degree in Communications and Journalism, with a focus on scientific writing and research. Before founding DentaKit.com, she was a technical writer and technical trainer for various high-tech companies in Silicon Valley. Since starting DentaKit.com 15+ years ago, she has attended many meetings of various dental associations, and has read and researched extensively on a variety of orthodontic and dental subjects. The articles she writes are always vetted by one or more orthodontists or dentists before they are published.

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