Permanent (Fixed) Retainers: Everything You Need to Know

Permanent retainers, also referred to as fixed retainers, are custom-fit wires that your oral healthcare provider bonds to your teeth after straightening them. Retainers keep your teeth from shifting after orthodontic treatment and can only be removed by a healthcare professional. In some cases, permanent retainers may be recommended over removable retainers, which you take in and out yourself.

This article discusses permanent retainers, their benefits, costs, and cleaning techniques.

Dentist placing permanent retainer in person's mouth

Thiago Santos / Getty Images

How Does a Permanent Retainer Work?

Your teeth are connected to your jaw by ligaments that stretch so your teeth can move. Braces or aligners can move your teeth into position for cosmetic or functional improvement. Afterward, you need a retainer to keep them in place or the ligaments tend to pull the teeth back toward their original position.

A permanent retainer is a wire, sometimes braided, that your healthcare provider (usually an orthodontist) fits to the back of your newly positioned teeth. They bond it to your teeth with a special cement, and the wire keeps your teeth in position. Sometimes, the wire is flexible, so it may not completely maintain teeth alignment after orthodontic work.

A permanent retainer actually can be removed but only by a professional.

Permanent vs. Removable Retainers

Permanent retainers are bonded to the back of your teeth so you don't have to remember to put them in and take them out. They aren't visible to other people. A healthcare provider can remove them if needed.

Removable retainers are either wire and plastic or clear. You can take them out, but you have to remember to wear them or your teeth are likely to move. Clear removable retainers are not very visible, but they can discolor and they may tear. Wire removable retainers are more visible but also more durable.

Pros of a Permanent Retainer

Permanent retainers keep your teeth in position at all times, which is the most effective way to keep them in place.

Other advantages of a permanent retainer are:

  • They are not visible to other people.
  • They are unlikely to affect your speech, which removable retainers may do.
  • They are very durable, lasting from a few years to up to 20 years.
  • They can be repaired or adjusted by your healthcare provider if necessary.

Cons of a Permanent Retainer

Some people prefer the choice of being able to take a retainer in and out, which is not possible with a permanent retainer. Other disadvantages include:

  • Good oral hygiene will take extra effort.
  • They may cause some initial irritation.
  • Initial cost can be more expensive than for removable retainers.
  • It can be difficult to see if a retainer has broken (until teeth have shifted).
  • You must see a dental healthcare professional if they break or need adjustment.

Permanent Retainer Cost

The cost of a retainer is set by the healthcare provider, so it can vary quite a bit. As a guideline, a permanent retainer, per wire, will cost about $250 to $550 per arch, for an upper or lower retainer.

Providers tend to use permanent retainers for the bottom teeth and may recommend a removable retainer for the top teeth.

Will Insurance Cover a Permanent Retainer?

Insurance coverage for a permanent retainer varies with different insurance policies. It is possible that dental insurance will cover all or part of the cost of your retainer if your coverage includes orthodontics. You can contact your insurance company or discuss it with your healthcare provider so you understand what you'll be paying. If you are under 18, health insurance policies must offer dental insurance.

Who Needs a Permanent Retainer?

A permanent rather than a removable retainer can be a good option if:

  • You think you might forget to use a removable retainer as instructed.
  • You don't want your retainer to be visible.
  • Your teeth were moved a significant amount during straightening or if you had teeth extracted and have a subsequent space closure.

How to Clean and Take Care of a Permanent Retainer

Permanent retainers can make keeping your teeth and gums clean more challenging because food particles can get caught in the wire. It can be difficult to floss, but there are options to keep the wired teeth clean including:

  • Floss threaders, which are thin disposable loops that make it easier to clean around the retainer wires
  • Water flossers, which clean debris and plaque with a strong stream of water
  • Interproximal brushes, which are small brushes used between your teeth

It's important to keep up with professional dental cleanings as well.

Permanent retainers are durable, but if they are uncomfortable and need adjustment, or if they break or bend, you will need to see your dental healthcare provider to have them adjusted or repaired.

Summary

Permanent retainers are custom-fit wires that a dental healthcare provider bonds to the back of your teeth after you've had them straightened. They will help keep your teeth in place and not move after straightening.

A permanent retainer is very durable, and you don't have to remember to put it in or take it out, like with removable retainers. Another benefit is that no one can see it, because it's behind your teeth.

It can be hard to keep your teeth clean with a permanent retainer, but there are specialized flossers that can help. Professional dental cleanings are also important.

A Word From Verywell

Retainers are an important part of keeping your teeth straight after going through the process of orthodontic treatment, and they protect your investment. No one can see your permanent retainer, which is a big plus for many people. Your provider will advise you on how long to wear your retainer, which can vary. They do take some getting used to, but you won't have to deal with taking it in and out, losing it, or forgetting it.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does a permanent retainer last?

    Permanent retainers are durable and can last up to 20 years. They may need adjustment or can bend or break, however. If your permanent retainer needs attention, your provider can remove it and repair or adjust it.

  • Can teeth still move with a permanent retainer?

    It is possible that your teeth will move even with a permanent retainer.

    To minimize this, see your provider regularly. If you notice any changes in your permanent retainer that may indicate a wire or the bond is damaged, make an appointment to have your permanent retainer checked.

  • Are permanent retainers worth it?

    Permanent retainers come with pros and cons, just like removable retainers. They may cost a bit more but can last longer and are the most effective kind of retainer when it comes to keeping newly straightened teeth in place. Listen to your provider's recommendation about retainers, but ask questions until you feel you are able to make the best decision.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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