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Essix Retainer: Cost, Care, Benefits, How it Works

Written by: Dr. John Castronova, Diamond Braces Orthodontist

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Oleg Drut, Diamond Braces Orthodontist and Chief Clinical Officer

Date: November 5, 2020

What is an Essix Retainer?

Essix Retainer

Essix retainers are a type of orthodontic retention device used to protect the results of your braces or clear aligner treatment. They are a set of clear, removable plastic retainers, and you will wear them regularly following your treatment.

An Essix retainer is one of the more affordable types of retainers available on the market: they range from about $150 to $500 for a set. Your orthodontist may include the cost of an Essix retainer in your total orthodontic care costs, and if insurance covers your braces treatment, it may help cover your retainer costs.

Essix is just one of several kinds of retainers: there are other clear retainers, including the Vivera™ retainer, which is made by Invisalign. According to research published by the National Institute of Health, Essix retainers are as effective as other kinds of retainers.

Vivera retainers are another form of clear aligner that works in a similar way. According to some orthodontists, Vivera retainers tend to be more durable and last longer than Essix retainers. 

The below guide has answers to all your questions about Essix retainers. Whichever kind of retainer you use, remember that the retention phase is one of the most important parts of your orthodontic care, to protect the stability of your new healthy, beautiful smile!

How do Essix Retainers Work?

There are 3 phases of orthodontic treatment:

  1. Diagnostic: The orthodontist examines your teeth, takes x-rays and other imaging, and develops your treatment plan.
  2. Treatment: Your doctor uses an orthodontic appliance such as braces or clear aligners to gradually shift your teeth into their correct positions.
  3. Retention: After the treatment phase is completed and your teeth are properly aligned, your orthodontist will fit you for retainers that will keep your teeth in place and prevent them from shifting back to their original positions.

Each phase of treatment is very important to the health and aesthetic of your smile, including the retention phase. Teeth have “memory”: even after they are moved into a better, healthier alignment, they still tend to drift back toward their original positions if the retainer is not used. According to the American Association of Orthodontists, retainers are a critical part of preventing this dental drift.

An Essix retainer is made of transparent plastic: you’ll have a top and bottom set, and they are removable. The plastic is molded uniquely to your teeth, and designed to fit snugly and comfortably in your mouth.

How Long Do You Wear an Essix Retainer?

Patient being fitted for an Essix retainer by an orthodontic assistant

Essix retainers are “nighttime for a lifetime”: you’ll wear them all day for the first few months after your treatment phase is completed, and then every night for about a year after that.

If your orthodontist examines your teeth and approves, you can start wearing the Essix retainers every other night, and you’ll want to continue doing that for as long as you can.

A set of Essix retainers can last several years, if properly cared for. Eventually, you will need to get a new set of retainers for your nighttime use. If the retainers are damaged, lost, or cracked, you should get a new set.

Many orthodontists offer a packaged set of multiple retainers, so if you lose or break an Essix retainer, you will already have a backup. If or when you run out of backup retainers, you can simply schedule a visit to your orthodontist to get fitted for a new set of Essix retainers.

And if you've moved or it's been a long time since you visited the orthodontist, a new orthodontist can help fit you for an Essix retainer.

How Much Do They Cost?

Essix retainers cost around $150 to $500 for a full set of retainers, top and bottom. These plastic retainers are on the lower end of cost for retainers, making them a popular option for many orthodontic patients.

The price varies due to your specific case, the orthodontist treating you, and the region where you’re seeking care. In some parts of the country, lab costs and other associated costs may be higher, raising the price of your Essix retainers.

An Essix retainer is built to last for several years, but eventually you will have to replace the retainer with a new one. Some orthodontists offer a package of several sets of Essix retainers, so you’ll already have backups handy. If you need to go to the orthodontist to get fitted for a new retainer, there may be office visit costs added to the price of the retainers.

Pros & Cons of Essix Retainers

Essix Retainer next to a permanent retainer model

Essix retainers have many benefits, but it's important to consider all aspects of your retainer care to decide which is right for you.

Essix retainers are one of several types of removable clear plastic retainers.

There are also permanent fixed retainers and Hawley retainers. These retainers have a different design, but achieve the same goal of protecting the gains made by your orthodontic care.

A Hawley retainer is also removable, like Essix retainers, but made of metal and wire, which makes the Hawley retainer more noticeable, but also more durable. 

A permanent bonded retainer is placed permanently on the back of the teeth (almost always on the bottom teeth), and stays there for many years. This type of retainer provides certain benefits

Compare Essix, Hawley, and permanent retainers

Pros of Essix Retainers

  • Clear removable plastic retainers are molded to your teeth for comfort and secure fit. They are comfortable and easy to wear, and the transparent plastic makes them extremely discreet, just like clear aligners used in orthodontic treatment. They are also easy to clean: simply remove them to brush and soak in a cleaning solution for easy hygiene.

  • In addition, the form-fitted mold of the Essix retainer provides comprehensive retention, so this type of retainer may have better, longer-lasting effectiveness when it comes to keeping your teeth in place.

  • Removable retainers don’t interfere with eating or drinking, because they are removed for all meals and drinking. Permanent retainers may be difficult to clean, and food or other debris may become trapped in the retainer.

  • And compared to the bulk of a Hawley retainer, the clear plastic of the Essix retainer is slim and less likely to irritate your gums, lips, and tongue. It is also less likely to cause difficult speaking, although you may experience a slight speech impediment as you get used to the device.

  • Cost: When compared to other clear plastic retainers, the advantage of Essix retainers is primarily cost: Essix retainers cost less than Invisalign Vivera™ retainers, so this is a cost-effective method for protecting the results of your orthodontic care.

Cons of Essix Retainers

  • When compared to Vivera™ retainers, Essix retainers are less sturdy and long-lasting. Many orthodontists prefer the snug fit and durability of Vivera™ retainers to the Essix retainers.

  • Harder to repair: if a clear retainer breaks, cacks, or loses its shape, it will likely need to be replaced because the plastic is difficult to repair. Metal retainers are easier to repair.

  • May warp if exposed to heat

  • Becomes discolored or stained over time, particularly if not cleaned regularly

  • Top and bottom teeth don’t connect when the retainers are in, which some patients find uncomfortable

  • Must be used every night or won’t be effective (with a permanent retainer, you don’t need to remember to wear it)

  • Will need to be replaced sooner than a permanent or Hawley retainer

Essix vs Hawley Retainer

An Essix retainer – one of several forms of removable plastic retainer – is one of the most popular retention devices. The Hawley retainer is another. The Hawley retainer is also removable, but it is made out of acrylic and metal and fits snugly on the roof of the mouth.

Hawley retainers and Essix retainers are both reliable and effective: orthodontic researchers have found they provide the same effective results.

Eating with an Essix Retainer

Because you remove Essix retainers for meals and drinking anything but water, there’s less concern of food getting stuck in the retainer.

You’ll wear the retainer full-time for the first few months after your orthodontic treatment, so you’ll simply remove both sets of retainers and store them in the case while you eat meals or drink anything besides water. Brush your teeth and rinse the retainers before you put them back in your mouth.

Once you switch to wearing the retainer at night, eating and drinking becomes even easier: just wait to put the retainer on until after you’ve eaten your meals for the day, and brush your teeth before putting the retainer in for the night.

There aren’t any food restrictions with clear plastic retainers – as long as it’s stored safely and no in your mouth, you can eat and drink anything you like! Just remember to brush after meals and before bed, and to floss once a day!

Essix Retainers for a Missing Tooth

In recent years, Essix retainers have also become a common short-term solution for missing teeth, before a permanent false tooth can be provided. A dentist or periodontist may use an Essix retainer to hide the hole created by the missing tooth. They will fit the Essix retainer over the patient’s teeth, with the missing tooth painted onto the retainer to hide the hole.

This is a temporary fix to hide the appearance of a missing tooth, and is not intended to provide a permanent false tooth solution.

You can also use Essix retainers as a post-orthodontic treatment solution, even when you have a missing or false tooth, as long as your orthodontist approves. Talk to your doctor if you have questions about using a set of Essix retainers with a missing or false tooth.

Cleaning & Caring for Your Essix Retainer

Essix retainers are simple to care for and to keep clean. It’s important to keep your retainers clean and safely stored when not worn, to ensure that the gains made with your orthodontic treatment are protected.

  • Before you put your retainers in for the night, brush and floss your teeth. When you take the retainers out of your mouth in the morning, clean them right away, so saliva doesn’t dry on the trays.

  • You can brush both top and bottom retainers with lukewarm water, and if you need a deeper clean, use a mix of lukewarm water with mild dish soap. Scrub them gently with a soft-bristled toothbrush or a denture brush.

  • If there are hard-to-reach grooves in your aligners, use a cotton swab to clean out those areas.

  • You can also soak your clear retainers in a special cleaning solution like Efferdent or Polident, or another specialized clear retainer cleaning solution – ask your orthodontist which solution they recommend for your Essix retainers.

  • Over time, your Essix retainers will likely become discolored: this is expected as the plastic begins to age. If the discoloration bothers you, it is time to switch to a fresh set of retainers, or go to the orthodontist to get a new set printed.

  • If your Essix retainers break, crack, or become misshapen due to heat or being crushed, you will also have to replace with a new set. You can either switch to a new set entirely or just replace the tray that has been damaged.

If you care properly for your Essix retainer, you can expect a single set to last well over a year, potentially up to 5 years. But if the retainers are broken or misshapen, they won’t be as effective at protecting your smile alignment, so when this happens, it’s important to replace the retainer right away.

Even with regular retainer wear, some shifting is inevitable: your teeth will slowly settle into their new, proper positions, and there will be some adjustment involved. Wearing your Essix retainers is the best way to prevent more severe movement, to protect the gains made by your orthodontic treatment.

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