Orthodontic Retainers: Types, Cost, Pros and Cons, Care


When you’re finished with orthodontic treatment, your orthodontist will provide you with a retainer to keep the results in place. That’s why it’s called a “retainer”: it “retains” the movements achieved by your braces or Invisalign treatment!

This guide explains everything you need to know about retainers – the various forms of retainers, what they are used for, and how to maintain them properly to keep your smile in place for years to come!

Every orthodontic treatment consists of three parts:

  1. Diagnostic: The orthodontist takes x-rays and photos, discusses your dental history with you, and checks your teeth and bite. From this information, the orthodontist then establishes a comprehensive diagnosis for your condition and creates a unique treatment plan to achieve the desired results.
  2. Treatment: Using an orthodontic appliance such as braces or clear aligners, the orthodontist carefully guides your teeth into their correct positions, closely monitoring the movement of each tooth. During the treatment phase, supplemental intervention such as a tooth extraction may be necessary.
  3. Retention: When treatment is complete, the orthodontist will provide you with a retainer device to keep the results of treatment intact. Retention is actually the most important part of care since, without proper retention, the gains made during treatment will fail.
Getting Fitted for Retainer by Orthodontic Assistant

What is a teeth retainer?

A retainer is an appliance used after orthodontic treatment to protect the results of the intervention. There are several different styles of retainers, but each is used to “retain” the treatment benefits and to prevent teeth from shifting out of alignment. A retainer is considered one of the most important parts of your treatment since it keeps your smile in place and your teeth healthy. Whatever retainer treatment your orthodontist recommends, be sure to follow the instructions properly to protect the investment you’ve made in your smile with orthodontic treatment!
Bonded Retainer in Place

Types of Retainers

Permanent Retainers

A permanent retainer is not really “permanent” – rather, it is bonded (glued) to your teeth on the backside (where your tongue touches them) and connects the front teeth so they won’t move. It can be installed or removed by your orthodontist.

Generally, the permanent retainer is a thin wire bonded to the back of your top and/or bottom teeth (depending on the specifics of your treatment). For this reason, another name for a permanent retainer is lingual wire. The wire is hidden from view on the back of your teeth, so the permanent retainer protects the results of your orthodontic treatment without any interruption to your new smile.

A permanent retainer is not permanent; it can be removed whenever necessary. People frequently wear a permanent retainer for many years without any inconvenience to their smile, health, or comfort.

Permanent Bonded Retainer

Pros and Cons of Permanent Retainers

A permanent retainer has many attractive features:

  • No need to remove and put back in
  • Invisible from the outside
  • No impact on speech
  • Can’t get lost
  • Easy to clean
  • Difficult to damage
  • Keeps your teeth in place permanently with little maintenance

Certain cases use a combination type of retainer, with a permanent bonded retainer and a removable retainer used for extra protection.

Some patients prefer a removable retainer: they can be cleaned thoroughly while removed from the mouth, and some patients may prefer this over cleaning their lingual wire inside their mouth.

Some patients find flossing to be more difficult with a lingual wire permanent retainer, and some simply prefer being able to fully remove the appliance from their mouth.

Other potential cons of a permanent retainer include:

  • Potential to break/fall off and require replacement
  • Irritation from metal object in the mouth
  • Some sticky or hard foods may get stuck
  • Takes extra time to clean retainer and floss under wire
  • Potential for plaque build-up

Permanent Retainer Cost

The original installation of your permanent retainer should be included in the overall cost of your braces or clear aligners – check with your provider before treatment to make sure.

If not – or if the permanent retainer breaks or falls off and needs to be replaced – this cost will be separate from the cost of original orthodontic care. This can cost anywhere from $150 to $500 depending on the specifics of your case and the orthodontist you seek out for care.

Permanent Retainer Care

Permanent Retainers are simple to care for, but it is important to maintain oral hygiene every day to keep your teeth clean.

Brush your teeth twice a day, for two minutes each time. Floss before bed every night. A floss threader makes it much easier to floss under the lingual wire of your permanent retainer.

Go to the dentist regularly for cleanings and check-ups: dentists and hygienists are skilled at cleaning around braces and permanent retainers, and it won’t impact your ability to get your teeth cleaned.

However, failure to keep your retainer clean can cause plaque and bacteria to build up, and this can cause tooth and gum decay. Be sure to care properly for your permanent retainer to keep your teeth clean and your smile fresh and healthy.

Common Questions About Permanent Retainers

Different Colored Hawley Retainers

Types of Retainers

Hawley Retainer

A Hawley retainer is the original retainer: a combination of a plastic plate molded to the roof or basin of your mouth, connected to a wire that runs across your teeth. The custom fit of the Hawley retainer keeps your teeth in place orthodontic care is complete. A Hawley retainer is easy to use, comfortable to wear, and extremely effective at protecting the results of your smile, as long as it is used as directed.

Example of a Hawley Retainer

Pros & Cons of Hawley Retainers

Pros of a Hawley retainer:

  • Easy to mold to the patient’s mouth
  • Adjustable over time if necessary
  • Plate color can be custom-selected
  • Durable and hard to damage
  • Easy to clean
  • Removable for easy cleaning and care

Cons of a Hawley retainer:

  • More noticeable than other retainers (wire sits in the front)
  • Plastic plate can be uncomfortable or cause difficulty speaking
  • If not cleaned properly, can create bacterial growth
  • If not worn properly, teeth may shift
  • Require dedicated compliance
  • Can be broken, lost, or damaged

Learn more about Hawley retainers.

Plastic Retainers

A plastic retainer is a clear retainer molded to fit snugly over your teeth to protect the results of your orthodontic treatment.

A plastic retainer may be used after any kind of treatment: metal or ceramic braces or clear aligners can all be followed by plastic retainers.

Your orthodontist will custom create the plastic retainers, with a different set for your bottom and top teeth. You will generally wear the retainers at night, or sometimes every other night, for years after your treatment. This will prevent your teeth from shifting.

There are several different kinds of plastic retainers.

Essix Retainer

Types of Retainers

Essix Retainer

An Essix retainer is one form of plastic retainer. It consists of a set of top and bottom clear molded plastic aligners, specifically designed to fit snugly over your teeth.

Custom-fitted by your orthodontist, they keep your teeth in place after treatment results have been achieved by orthodontic care, either braces or Invisalign clear aligners. You may be prescribed an Essix retainer by your orthodontist after either form of treatment.

An Essix retainer costs anywhere from $50 to $300; although your orthodontist should include the price in your original treatment costs – and last for a few years if properly maintained and cared for. This is one of the least expensive retainers available.

Person Wearing Clear Plastic Retainers

Pros and Cons of Plastic Retainers

Benefits of clear plastic retainers:

• Removable and easy to clean
• Comfortable
• Subtle appearance
• Easy to make multiple copies for back-up retainers
• Snug fit protects straight teeth well
• Long-lasting performance, due to superior material
• Doubles as a bleaching tray to bleach your teeth while sleeping

Potential drawbacks to clear plastic retainers:

• May need new sets made if dental work changes size or shape of a tooth
• Needs to be cleaned daily to prevent bacteria growth
• May be lost or damaged by a pet

Plastic retainers are very effective, but some patients prefer other types of retention appliances. Talk to your orthodontist if you have other questions about whether plastic retainers are right for you.

Common Questions About Clear/Plastic Retainers


Types of Retainers

Vivera Retainers

An Invisalign Vivera retainer looks like an Essix retainer: it’s a set of clear aligner retainers custom created to fit snugly over your top and bottom teeth. but Vivera has an edge over Essix retainers: Vivera retainers are made of a custom-designed material called SmartTrack, patented by Invisalign, that lasts longer and performs better than generic Essix retainers.

Vivera retainers are used as part of Invisalign clear aligner treatment — once you are finished with Invisalign therapy to achieve the best results for your teeth and bite, the Vivera retainers will help keep those results in place for a healthy, happy smile that lasts. The Vivera retainer is usually a separate cost from the treatment costs.

Vivera retainers cost more than Essix retainers, due to the meticulous lab work involved to create the customized retainers with patented material. However, Vivera retainers are packaged cost-effectively by providing 4 sets (8 retainers total) for consistent, long-term use, so investing in Vivera retainers is a great choice for your smile and your health.

Many orthodontists prefer the fit and effectiveness of Vivera as compared to Essix retainer, and many patients prefer their fit as well.

How Long Do You Have to Wear Retainers?


When Can I Stop Wearing Retainers?

Directly after finishing treatment, your orthodontist will likely prescribe retainer wear full-time or at night. It is important to follow your orthodontist’s recommendations when wearing retainers. If the instructions are not followed, the teeth will shift back.

How Long Before Teeth Shift Without Retainers?

According to expert orthodontists, the most critical period to prevent teeth shifting is right after treatment, when the orthodontic appliance is removed and the teeth are settling into their new positions. But teeth can shift at any time, and as people age, their teeth naturally tend to shift out of place.

Do You Have to Wear a Retainer Forever?

The longer you wear the retainer, the better for your teeth. Teeth can shift at any age: humans use their teeth every day, and regular wear and tear cause shifting. To protect your investment in your health with orthodontic care, it’s important to wear your retainers as prescribed by your doctor.

General Questions About Retainers

Example of a Spring Retainer