There are two basic types of retainers: removable and permanent. Your orthodontist helps you choose the best type for you based on what you needed braces for and any conditions you might have. You may be given only one type, or you may receive a removable retainer for your top teeth and a permanent one for your bottom teeth.
A retainer keeps your teeth from moving after they’ve been straightened with braces. It can take at least four to six months for the new position of your teeth to become permanent. During that time, your teeth will try to shift back to their original position, which is called relapse. When used as instructed, a retainer prevents this from happening.
Let’s look at and the different types of permanent and removable retainers, and compare your options.
Other considerations for retainer costs
These estimated costs reflect an average of self-reported prices given by orthodontists and people who’ve had dental work. These estimates don’t take into account dental insurance. Speak to your orthodontist, dentist, or insurance provider about whether dental insurance can cover the treatment and how much of the cost insurance will pay for.
Two of the biggest factors in cost are your location and what dental work you need.
Orthodontists set their own prices for treatments, and the cost of your retainer may be bundled into the overall cost of your dental work and your braces.
Also ask your orthodontist about the cost of replacements or repair if something happens to your retainer.
The advantages of removable retainers are:
- They’re easily removed when you want to eat and to brush or floss your teeth.
- They’re relatively easy and convenient to get.
The disadvantages are:
- They can be misplaced or lost when not in your mouth, especially if they’re not kept in a case.
- They can be easily damaged if left lying around.
- They can cause excess saliva production.
- Bacteria can grow and live on them.
The biggest problem with removable retainers is that relapse is common. This is because people may lose the retainer and not replace it or don’t wear their retainer as often as instructed. When you don’t wear it, it can’t work like it’s supposed to, and your teeth will try to shift back to their original position.
Both types of removable retainers should be removed and cleaned with gentle brushing daily. Your orthodontist may also recommend soaking it.
There are two kinds of removable retainers: Hawley and clear plastic retainers.
Also called wire retainers, these are removable retainers made of thin metal wire and plastic or acrylic shaped to fit the roof of your mouth or along the inside of your lower teeth. The attached metal wire runs across the outside of your teeth to maintain alignment.
The Hawley retainer has these advantages:
- The retainer can be adjusted if you need a better fit when you first get it or if your teeth need slight realignment later.
- It’s slightly more durable than a clear plastic retainer.
- It may be repairable if broken.
- It can last for years if used and cared for properly.
- The upper and lower teeth touch naturally with this type of retainer.
- It affects your speech more than other retainers.
- It’s more noticeable than the other types of retainers.
- The wire may irritate your lip or cheeks initially.
Clear plastic retainers
These are removable retainers that are molded to perfectly fit the new position of your teeth. They’re also called molded retainers. (The technical name for them is thermoplastic or vacuum-formed retainers.)
To make this type of retainer, a mold of the teeth is created. A very thin plastic or polyurethane is then heated and sucked down around the mold.
A clear plastic retainer has the following advantages:
- It’s virtually invisible, so you’re more likely to wear it. That means relapse is less likely.
- It’s less bulky and may be more comfortable than a Hawley retainer.
- It’s less likely to affect your speech than a Hawley retainer.
Disadvantages of a clear retainer:
- It can’t be adjusted if you need realignment. It would need to be replaced.
- If it cracks or breaks, it can’t be repaired.
- It may affect your speech more than permanent retainers.
- It can warp if exposed to heat.
- It tends to become discolored (and more visible) over time.
- Top and bottom teeth don’t touch naturally with this type of retainer.
- It can trap liquids against your teeth, which can cause cavities.
The main difference in the three common brands of clear retainers is the type of plastic material they are made of. The brands are Vivera, Essix, and Zendura.
Vivera is sometimes incorrectly called Invisalign. The two products are made by the same company, but Invisalign is an aligner used to straighten teeth instead of metal braces, not a retainer.
Clear plastic retainers have become more and more popular and are used more often than Hawley retainers.
Permanent retainers: Pros and cons
Permanent retainers consist of a solid or braided wire that is curved to fit the shape of your newly straightened teeth. The wire is cemented (bonded) to the inside of your front teeth to keep them from moving. Most often used on lower teeth, they are also called fixed, lingual wire, or bonded retainers. They can’t be removed except by your orthodontist or dentist.
They’re often used when an orthodontist thinks the teeth are very likely to relapse or the person (such as a young child) won’t follow the instructions for using a removable retainer. Although some are removed at some point, usually because of excess buildup of plaque and tarter or gum irritation, most are left in place indefinitely.
A permanent retainer has these advantages:
- Complying with instructions for when and how long to wear it isn’t a problem.
- It’s not visible to others.
- It’s not likely to affect your speech.
- It can’t be misplaced or lost.
- It can’t be damaged easily.
- It may be hard to maintain oral hygiene, especially flossing, because you can’t remove it. This can cause tartar and plaque to build up, possibly leading to gum disease.
- It’s attached, which you may not like.
- The metal wire might irritate your tongue.
Like your teeth, permanent retainers should be cleaned daily. Using a threader can make it easier to get dental floss underneath the wire to remove food, plaque, and tartar.
Why a retainer?
Even after your teeth are permanently in their new position, the effects of chewing, growth, and everyday wear can lead to relapse. So your orthodontist may recommend that you use a retainer for the rest of your life.
If your retainer is removable, it’s very important to wear it exactly as your orthodontist says, or you might lose some or all the benefits of your braces. One study showed that the most common instructions are to use a retainer all day, seven days a week for one year after braces are removed. Then it’s usually recommended the retainer be worn at night indefinitely. Instructions vary, so it’s important to talk to your orthodontist about this.
Once you start using your retainer, your orthodontist will want to check your teeth to be sure your retainer is keeping them from moving. They may adjust or fix the retainer or make a new one if needed. Usually, you’ll have checkups 1, 3, 6, 11, and 24 months after your braces are removed.
You should see your orthodontist as soon as possible if you lose your retainer or it cracks or breaks. That way it can be replaced before your teeth relapse.
There are pros and cons to each retainer type. Your orthodontist will recommend the best type for you based on your teeth and why you needed braces. But don’t forget to consider your preferences on the look and amount of time and effort you are willing to spend on it. You will most likely be using and maintaining your retainer for many months or years, so it’s important that you have the type of retainer that works best for you and that you’ll use as instructed.
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