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How Much Do Retainers Cost With & Without Insurance?

Retainers can help maintain your oral alignment after braces or aligners. See how having dental insurance can affect the cost of these devices.

Last updated on

September 7, 2023

Katharine Hall

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How Much Do Retainers Cost With & Without Insurance?

They say that once you get braces, they never really come off. It’s not because those wires will be on your teeth forever — but because you’ll need to practice some new, healthy habits all your life if you want to make sure that your procedure is worthwhile in the end.

Retainers help keep your teeth in place after you get braces put on. Learn how much you can expect to pay for them after you’ve already paid so much for your braces. Then, review how you can get some retainers at an affordable cost.

What Are Retainers?

Retainers, as their name implies, retain the straightness of your teeth after getting braces or an invisible aligner treatment to help correct malocclusion (misaligned teeth). But why exactly do you need them?

Think about it like this: when you have braces on for many months, the gums, bones, and muscles in your mouth haven’t had to do any work themselves. All the work has been done by the braces.

Since your mouth isn’t used to this change and your muscles haven’t adapted to the new position, your teeth will essentially sink back into their original position unless you work to hold them in place.

Your retainer keeps your teeth in the correct place so that they don’t move, much like braces. A major difference with retainers is that, in most cases, you only need to wear them at night while you sleep, at least after a certain point.

With that said, there are two different types of retainers that can each work differently.

What Are the Different Types of Retainers?

The two types of retainers are fixed and removable. Fixed or permanent retainers stay on your teeth with a bonding agent. These cannot be removed without the help of a professional, and they are often used on the front, lower, and upper teeth to keep them from shifting apart. These are less popular than removable retainers.

Traditional Hawley retainers have a piece of wire attached to a piece of acrylic that adheres to the roof of your mouth and fits behind your teeth. Clear retainers (Essix) don’t have wires and click over top of your teeth, much like an invisible aligner would.

How Are Retainers Fitted?

When you need to get fitted for retainers, you first need to get a dental impression of your teeth. There are two main methods for how a dentist can do this:

The classic avenue is with a putty, or soft dough, that is placed into trays. You’ll bite down onto the trays for about two minutes. Once you release, your bite will have left an impression in the tray that will be used to make the molds for your retainer.

Today, many offices now take digital impressions, which are a more comfortable alternative. A handheld device, similar to a wand, is used to capture images of the inside of your mouth. Computer software then stitches those images together to form a 3D model of your mouth.

Either way, a dental lab will use the mold to create your retainer. It usually takes about a week or more before you can get your hands on the finished product.

For fixed retainers, the process is a bit different. First, a wire is used to measure the correct placement of your teeth. Then, the glue sets the wire in place. This is a more intricate process than making a model, and it can take a longer time. With that said, you’ll leave the office with the retainer in place, and you won’t need to wait for it to come in. You will still likely need to go in for check-ups or to get more retainers in the future.

Why Are Retainers Important?

Braces don’t guarantee permanent results for some of the reasons we mentioned earlier. Without using a retainer, it’s highly likely that your teeth will just shift back to their prior alignment after the braces are removed.

If you wear your retainer for at least 18 months, the tendency for these teeth to shift becomes a lot lower since the muscles in your mouth regain the strength needed to hold your teeth in the proper positions. But even then, wearing a retainer is essential to keep your teeth aligned for lasting results.

Unfortunately, most people fall out of this habit, making it possible to completely negate the positive effects of braces and retainers. In fact, one study found that retainer compliance fell to just 55% after one year and then all the way down to 45% after two years. This makes it more likely for the teeth to shift, and the last thing anyone wants to do (or pay for) is traditional braces again.

Wearing a retainer is a bit frustrating, but it is a small price to pay to maintain your perfect smile.

Do Retainers Hurt?

When you first get a set of braces or invisible aligners, you’ll probably notice minor discomfort as they work to shift your teeth into their proper positions. Since a retainer is not moving your teeth, only holding them in place, it’s unlikely that a retainer will cause discomfort. It should just feel nice and snug in your mouth.

With that said, you might feel some discomfort if you forget to wear your retainer for a period of time and then start wearing it again. Essentially, if you wear your retainer as directed, it’s unlikely to cause any pain. If the retainer is cracked or damaged, it can cause pain. Seek a professional’s help to get a flawless, pain-free model.

If you forget to wear your retainer for a short period of time, a retainer might be able to help nudge them back into place. Just note that this usually only applies to small, short-term changes.

Not to mention, a broken permanent retainer can cause discomfort if the wires start to poke and irritate your gums or lips. If your permanent retainer breaks, contact your orthodontist right away so they can make adjustments.

How To Care for Your Retainer

If your retainer gets damaged or lost, it can put the health of your teeth in jeopardy. Plus, it can help you avoid the need to pay for a new one. Luckily, taking care of your retainer is easy.

Always be sure to remove your retainer when you eat. Not only will your retainer make it difficult to chew, but it will also be more difficult to clean if you get food particles lodged into some of the crevices. You also should never chew gum with your retainer in.

When you’re not wearing your retainer, put it directly into its case immediately. Many people lose their retainers from shoving them into their pockets or purse without a case first. Perhaps even more common is people placing it in a napkin during lunch and throwing the napkin away with the rest of their trash. This can also make it a lot easier for your retainer to become cracked or damaged — or lost forever in the landfill.

Since the retainer is made of plastic, you also want to make sure you don’t have it in a hot place, like a hot car or next to a stovetop. This can melt the components and force you to get a new one.

You also want to brush and floss your teeth before putting your retainer in. This helps not only keep your retainer clean but also helps to avoid bacteria and plaque build-up on your teeth underneath the retainer.

To keep your retainer clean, you do the following:

  • Brush removable retainers with soapy water. Don’t use toothpaste, as some are too abrasive and can damage the retainer.
  • If the retainer becomes discolored, you can use water and baking soda to gently scrub with a soft-bristled brush.
  • After brushing and flossing, run the retainer under warm water to give it a quick rinse.
  • For fixed retainers, you can practice normal oral hygiene to keep them in top shape.

How Much Do Retainers Cost?

The sad truth is that even after you spend so much money on braces or invisible aligners (upward of $7,000 and $9,500, respectively), you still need to spend another $200 to $600 on a retainer. Due to the added cost, many people decide not to get a retainer in the first place. This can completely negate the effects of the alignment treatment that was given prior.

Typically, one set of post-operative retainers are covered by dental insurance companies. However, this means you need to take good care of your retainer because you will likely be responsible for the cost of a new one if it breaks or becomes lost.

But either way, you shouldn’t need to worry about the cost of your dental care, and it definitely shouldn’t be a barrier between you and your oral health.

Flossy is a pay-as-you-go dental service for people with or without insurance, where you only pay for the procedures you receive. And since we can save you up to 50% on common dental treatments, you might spend even less than you would on the cost of premiums and fees with dental insurance.

From routine cleanings to alignment procedures, Flossy gives you access to our network of vetted, experienced dentists at some of the lowest out-of-pocket prices on the market. Since there’s no waiting period to start getting care, you can sign up for a membership today and see a professional right away.

Luckily, there’s a Flossy dentist in your area who can help get you started on finding your smile.

In Conclusion

Retainers are permanent or removable fixtures that can help keep your teeth in proper alignment after you get braces or invisible aligners removed. They are an additional charge on top of what you already paid for your alignment treatment.

Most insurance companies cover the cost of one set of retainers, so if you lose or break them, you might be stuck paying out of pocket for a replacement. Retainers can range upwards of $600 for removable pieces, but this can vary based on other factors.

The good news is that you don’t necessarily need insurance to get affordable dental care. From retainers to root canals, Flossy can save you up to 50% on the cost of common dental treatments.

There’s no waiting period to get the care you need, so sign up today and find a dentist in your area right away with the Flossy App.


Retainer wear and compliance in the first 2 years after active orthodontic treatment | NIH

Malocclusion of teeth Information | Mount Sinai - New York

Plaque and tartar on teeth | MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia

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