What Are the Different Types of Retainers for Teeth?

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Retainers keep your teeth in place after straightening with braces, aligners, or other devices. Oral healthcare providers, such as orthodontists, can also use retainers to improve your bite, move one or two teeth, or help you speak more clearly.

Here's a look at different types of retainers, their cost, and their pros and cons.

Clear plastic retainer teeth in their container


Bhubeth Bhajanavorakul / Getty Images

What Is a Retainer?

A retainer is a device that keeps your teeth in place after orthodontic treatment. Teeth tend to shift back toward their original position if they aren't kept in place while the bone hardens around them. Bones are living tissue and continue to change through our lives, and retainers can help keep your teeth aligned for many years.

Removable Retainers

Removable retainers are retainers that you take in and out yourself. Healthcare providers use them most often on the upper front teeth. Removable retainers are easy to slide in and out when you want, but you must keep track of them, use them as your provider recommends, and clean them regularly.

There are two types of removable retainers, and each has pros and cons.

Hawley Retainers

Hawley retainers are what many people think of when they hear the word "retainer." They are one of the most common kinds of retainers and have been around for close to 100 years.

To create them, dental healthcare providers create a mold of your upper palate using hard plastic or acrylic and attach wires that hold your teeth in place. The plastic part used to be made to match the color of your palate, but now you can order it in various patterns and colors.

Clear Plastic Molded Retainers

The other type of removable retainer is made of clear plastic or polyurethane.

To create them, your dental healthcare provider will make a mold of your teeth. Either their office or a lab will fill the mold with the clear material, which has been heated to soften it, so it conforms to the mold. A vacuum device pulls it tightly against the mold, so it makes a perfect replica of your teeth. When you wear it, the clear plastic is barely noticeable, if at all.

Here are some of the pros and cons of removable retainers.

Pros
  • Easy to put in and take out

  • Easy to maintain oral hygiene

  • Hawley retainer can be repaired

  • Hawley retainer is adjustable

  • Hawley form is fairly durable

  • Clear retainers are not noticeable

Cons
  • Could be lost or misplaced

  • Requires daily cleaning

  • May affect speech

  • Hawley form is visible

  • Clear retainers may tear or yellow over time

  • Clear retainers are not adjustable

Permanent Retainers

Permanent retainers are placed by a dental healthcare provider and stay in place until removed by a professional. The dental healthcare provider custom fits a wire to the back of your teeth and glues or bonds it in place.

Permanent retainers are most commonly used for lower teeth. They can be a good option if you think you might not remember to use your removable retainer, but they can make it harder to keep your teeth clean.

Here are some of the pros and cons of permanent retainers.

Pros
  • Keeps teeth in position 24/7

  • Cannot be seen by others

  • Doesn't affect speech

  • You don't have to remember to put it in

  • Can be repaired or adjusted

Cons
  • Mold takes longer to make than removable retainer

  • Can be difficult to floss

  • Must be removed by an oral healthcare provider for adjustment if it's uncomfortable

  • Bond can loosen or break

How Much Does a Retainer Cost?

Costs vary widely because the dental healthcare provider sets the cost of the retainer, and it can be different according to where you live, your insurance coverage, and other factors.

Some representative costs are below, including costs if they are lost, broken, or need adjustment.

Cost Comparison of Teeth Retainers
Type  Permanent Hawley Clear
Cost $250-550 per wire (upper and lower) $150 -300 per arch $100-300 per tray
Durability  Up to 20 years Up to 10 years Up to 3 years, but may yellow or tear
Adjustable Yes Yes No
Repairs Yes Yes No
Replacement Cost Same as original Same as original Same as original

Other Considerations

Your dental healthcare provider will recommend the kind of retainer they feel is best for you or offer other options. They may suggest a combination of retainers: removable for the upper teeth and permanent for the lower teeth.

Remember that it will take about four to six months for the bone to harden around your teeth after orthodonture, but teeth can continue to shift as we age as our bones and other tissues change.

When you talk to your oral healthcare provider about types of retainers, think about which one may work best for you over the long haul. Remember the pros and cons of each type and what will best fit your lifestyle.

In the case of permanent retainers, it can be difficult to keep your teeth clean. However, floss threaders can get to areas you can't reach because of the wire. Water flossers are another option.

Consider, too, that if the wire of a permanent retainer breaks or bends, a oral healthcare provider will have to remove it to repair it. They can also cause irritation, but they can be adjusted if so.

Clear retainers are more fragile and more likely to need to be replaced.

Why You Might Need a Retainer

If you want to make the most of the time and cost you put into straightening your teeth, you need a retainer. If you have only one or two teeth that need to be moved, a retainer rather than braces or an aligner might be able to address it.

If your tongue tends to move forward when you talk and makes your speech unclear, a retainer can realign your teeth slightly so that you can articulate more clearly.

Summary

Retainers help keep your teeth in position after orthodontic treatment, like teeth straightening.

Retainers fall into two categories: removable and permanent. Removable retainers can be made with a mold of your upper palate and wires or with a clear material that is not very visible but is more delicate. Permanent retainers are fitted and placed by your dental healthcare provider, who can remove them if necessary.

All retainers have their pros and cons, so consider cost, maintenance, ease of use, durability, and visibility preference when discussing retainers with your dental healthcare provider.

A Word From Verywell

If you wore braces or clear aligners, you've probably put a lot of time and money into getting your teeth where you want them. It's a great feeling to finally see the results, so it's worth the commitment to wear your retainer as long as recommended or beyond. Talk to your dental healthcare provider about which retainer option is the best for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long do retainers last?

    Permanent or Hawley wire retainers tend to last longer than clear molded retainers. In part, it depends on how well you take care of them. The clear retainers are the most delicate and could last up to three years. A Hawley retainer can last up to 10 years. A permanent retainer can last for up to 20 years.

  • Does a retainer straighten your teeth?

    Retainers don't straighten your teeth; they keep them in place after your dental healthcare provider uses braces or aligners to make them straighter. Some clear aligners look very similar to retainers, but a retainer can also make minor adjustments if only a few teeth need to be moved slightly.

  • Are retainers used forever?

    Oral healthcare providers have different recommendations for how long you should wear your retainer. It will take months for the bone to harden around the newly positioned teeth, and they can still move after that. Some people wear their retainers at night indefinitely. Follow your dental healthcare provider's instructions for how long to wear a retainer for best results.

  • How can you floss with a permanent retainer?

    If you have a permanent retainer, try a floss threader to work around the wire. Water flossers can also work well, though they are a bit more of an investment. They remove debris with a high-pressure stream of water. Once you get the hang of it, they can work very well.

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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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