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Hawley Retainer: Cost, Care, Benefits, Colors

Written By: Dr. John Castronova, Diamond Braces Orthodontist

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

Date: November 4, 2020

Hawley retainer example with red acrylic plate

A Hawley retainer is one form of orthodontic retainer, which uses a combination of a hard plastic or acrylic plate connected by a thin metal wire. The retainer is molded to your mouth to fit comfortably on the roof of your mouth, with the wire settled against the front of your top teeth.

The retainer protects the results of your orthodontic care, and prevents your teeth from sliding back into their previous positions. The Hawley retainer must be worn nightly for life, so your healthy smile is maintained for as long as possible. It can be used after treatment with braces or clear aligners like Invisalign.

Hawley retainers are the original retention device, but new designs are emerged in the last few decades, including removable clear plastic retainers such as Essix and Vivera retainers. While clear retainers are becoming more popular, the Hawley retainer continues to be one of the most common and effective retention devices used by orthodontists and preferred by patients.

According to a recent study from the National Institute of Health, Hawley retainers were preferred by 90% of orthodontists for use with a maxillary dental arch.

A Hawley retainer is easy to use, comfortable to wear, and extremely effective at protecting the results of your smile, as long as it used as directed.

Pros and Cons of a Hawley Retainer

There are several advantages of a Hawley retainer:

  • Easy to mold to the patient's mouth

  • Adjustable over time if necessary

  • Plate color can be custom-selected for personalized appearance

  • Sturdy materials are durable and difficult to damage

  • Easy to clean

  • Removable for easy cleaning and care

  • No food restrictions: remove the retainer for all meals and drinking

Some cons to consider with Hawley retainers:

  • More noticeable than other retainers (wire sits in the front)

  • Plastic plate can be uncomfortable

  • May cause difficulty speaking

  • Bulkier appliance may cause irritation to lips, gums, or tongue

  • If not cleaned properly, bacteria may grow

  • If not worn properly and regularly, teeth may shift

  • Requires dedicated compliance

  • Removable appliance can be broken, lost, or damaged

For these reasons, some patients may prefer another form of retainer.

A Hawley retainer generally costs between $350 and $600. The costs vary depending on your orthodontist provider, the region where you’re being treated, and the specifics of your case. The price includes the cost necessary to send molds to a production facility and to have the retainer designed for your mouth and sent back to the office. Generally, Hawley retainers cost more than clear plastic Essix retainers, but a single Hawley retainer is designed to last many years, longer than plastic Essix retainers.

The cost of your Hawley retainer may be included in the overall price of your orthodontic care. In addition, patients whose insurance covers their braces treatment may have the retainer covered as well.

A replacement Hawley retainer is likely the same price as the original retainer, around $350-$600. You may also have to pay extra for the office visit to be fitted for the new retainer.

What Color is a Hawley Retainer?

Exampled of Different Colors of Hawley Retainers

Hawley retainers come in a huge variety of colors, and can even be printed with fun designs like watermelon, tie-dye, or stars-and-stripes. The colorful part of the retainer is the hard plastic or acrylic plate that sits on the roof of the mouth, which is connected to metal wires that keep the retainer snugly in place. The acrylic or plastic material can be cast in nearly any color, allowing you lots of customizable choice to make your retainer your own.

Because the retainer sits high on the roof of the mouth, it’s entirely hidden behind the teeth: that means you can choose a bright and fun color for your retainer without worrying that anyone will see it.

To avoid discoloration, avoid a very light color like white or gray: bright jewel tones like red and blue will stay in good condition for a very long time. If your retainer breaks, the plate will have to be re-cast, and you will have the option to select a new color or design.

Choose your favorite color or your favorite season to inspire your color choices; your orthodontist’s office may also offer an array of designs you can choose from, like flowers, cats, or sports equipment. Ask your orthodontist which options that have for Hawley retainer colors and designs.

How Do I Clean My Hawley Retainer?

In order for the Hawley retainer to work effectively, it is very important to keep it clean and stored properly when not in use.

Wear your Hawley retainer every night, and clean it thoroughly before storing in the case during the day. To clean, remove from your mouth, and brush the entire surface gently with a toothbrush and warm water. Don't use toothpaste: it can damage the plastic in the retainer.

For an occasional deeper clean, you can also soak the retainer in baking soda and water for several hours. Don’t do this every night – it can damage the metal wire over time – but soaking the retainer overnight once or twice a month will provide a thorough overall cleaning of the appliance. You can also soak the storage case to prevent bacterial growth. Be sure to rinse your retainer with water before placing back in your mouth or in the storage case; do the same for the storage case.

Can a Hawley Retainer Move Teeth?

A Hawley retainer is not designed to move teeth. Rather, it is worn to protect the gains made by your orthodontic care, either with braces or clear aligners. Without a retainer, your teeth will naturally start to shift back to their original positions, so wearing a retainer regularly will stop this shifting and keep your healthy bite and beautiful smile in place. While some minor shifting is normal as your teeth settle into place, regular retainer use will prevent your teeth from shifting out of alignment and requiring future treatment.

If you have neglected wearing your retainer and your teeth have shifted, wearing the retainer will not move your teeth back into their proper positions. You may need another round of orthodontic care to address the shifting that has taken place. To avoid the expense, hassle, and time of second-round orthodontic care, prevent dental drift by wearing your Hawley retainer every night.

Hawley Retainer vs Clear Retainer

Which retainer is right for you depends on your preferences or needs. Both Hawley retainers and clear retainers are effective ways to protect the effects of your orthodontic treatment: in fact, a recent NIH study found they provided the same amount of effectiveness on average in retaining the gains of orthodontic care.

 

 

Material 

How Long Lasting 

Cost 

Effect- 

iveness 

Noticeability 

Pros 

Cons 

Hawley Retainer 

Metal and acrylic or hard plastic  

5-10 years or more 

$350-$600 for a set 

Highly effective 

High 

  • Sturdy materials and durable design: built to last years 
  • Simpler to adjust and repair 
  • Many color options for personalized design 
  • Removable design 
  • No food restrictions because appliance is removed for meals 
  • Easy to clean and soak 
  • Long lasting design is cost-effective over time 

 

  • Wires or plastic may cause irritation to gums, lips, or tongue  
  • More visible: metal wires go across the front teeth 
  • Bulkier appliance may cause speech impediments  

Clear removable retainers 

Transparent, flexible plastic 

1-5 years 

$150-$300 for a set 

Highly effective 

Low 

  • Clear retainers are subtle and nearly invisible  
  • No issues with food getting stuck in retainer 
  • Easy to clean  
  • Easy to copy and make several sets at once 
  • Secure, comprehensive snug fit provides effectiveness at retaining orthodontic results 
  • More difficult to repair if damaged  - more likely to need replacement 
  • May need to be replaced every year or if teeth shift  
  • Can cause extra saliva production 
  • Bacteria can grow on retainers if not cleaned 

How Long to Wear a Hawley Retainer?

Retainers are “nighttime for a lifetime”: you’ll wear them more regularly in the first year, but eventually, your orthodontist will instruct you to wear your retainer every night or every few nights for as long as you can – ideally, forever. This will keep your teeth in their appropriate positions, and prevent them from shifting back to their old, improper alignment.

For the first year after completing your orthodontic treatment, you’ll wear your Hawley retainer full time, day and night, removing for meals and to brush your teeth and clean the retainer. This is an important period of the retention phase where your teeth are adjusting to having your braces removed, but still require support to keep from shifting.

After about a year, you’ll be able to switch to wearing the retainers just at night for another year or so. Once this process has been completed, you can wear your retainers every other night, forever.

Do Hawley Retainers Break Easily?

Hawley retainers are durable and designed to be sturdy in your mouth. However, accidents happen and the retainers often break – that’s why it’s important to care for your retainer properly, storing it in a case when you take it out so it does not get lost or broken – or eaten by the dog, which is a very common problem with Hawley retainers!

How Long Does a Hawley Retainer Last?

Hawley retainers are sturdy and designed to last for years: they are built to last multiple years. It’s important to care for your retainer properly, to prevent it from getting broken, lost, or dirty. Even a well-maintained retainer will need to be replaced, however: after several years, you should visit the orthodontist to get a new Hawley retainer.

How Comfortable Are Hawley Retainers?

Most people find Hawley retainers to be comfortable and easy to wear, especially since they are worn only at night after the first year, when they should be worn full-time. However, the appliance is somewhat bulkier than clear plastic retainers, and some patients find this uncomfortable: the plastic plate can irritate the roof of the mouth, or the connecting wire may poke the lips or gums. For certain patients, clear Essix retainers or a permanent bonded retainer may be more comfortable.

Can a Hawley Retainer Correct Overbite?

No, retainers are not meant to correct any orthodontic issue, including overbites. Rather, they are used after treatment with braces or clear aligners to keep the results of treatment in place and prevent the teeth from shifting back.

If you have a dental issue like an overbite, it will require orthodontist-supervised treatment to correct, followed by a retainer.

Can I Eat with a Hawley Retainer?

Remove the Hawley retainer and store properly before eating. Food can get trapped in the retainer, causing plaque to build up or damage to the device. Store your retainer in the case provided, not in a napkin, and be sure to rinse your mouth and retainer before putting it back in. When the retainer is out of your mouth, you can eat and drink anything you like: there are no food restrictions with a Hawley retainer.

Can I Drink with a Hawley Retainer?

You can drink water with a Hawley retainer in, but if you drink anything else you should remove the retainer. Store it properly so it doesn’t get broken or lost, and rinse your mouth and retainer before putting it back in.

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