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Types of Retainers: Pros and Cons

Explore the different types of retainers, their advantages, and downsides. Make an informed choice for your dental health with Flossy.

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Types of Retainers: Pros and Cons

Having straight teeth helps you be more confident and comfortable with your smile. While braces or Invisalign help you to get a straighter smile, your teeth will naturally try to shift back to their original position if you don’t prepare. This is where retainers come into play to “retain” the shape of your teeth for the rest of your life.

Retainers can be frustrating, but wearing them can mean an entire world of difference. Here’s everything you need to know, including what they do, how they work, and the different types available.

What Are Retainers?

Retainers are custom-fitted orthodontic appliances worn over the teeth inside of the mouth to help keep teeth in their new, correct position after you get braces or invisible aligners.

Note: Dentists can provide you with traditional/metal braces, but many tend to focus on other services like cleanings, whitenings, fillings, and more. On the other hand, orthodontists tend to focus on teeth straightening, bite alignment, and jaw issues. 

After you get braces or an alignment of your teeth, they aren’t completely firm in your new position. This is because the gums and muscles in your mouth aren’t yet adapted to the change of shape, so they’re malleable and open to change. Habits like chewing or teeth grinding apply force to these teeth, easily shifting them back out of place.

Think about it this way: your braces hold your teeth in place for a long time without your gums and muscles in your jaw needing to do any of the work. Once the braces come off, there’s nothing holding them in place and stopping them from going back. Your retainer holds your teeth in place, giving the gums time to get used to the change so they can hold them naturally.

In essence, braces straighten your teeth, and your retainer keeps them that way.

What Are the Different Types of Retainers?

There are two main retainer types that you might be offered after getting a new alignment: fixed retainers and removable retainers. Some dentists might use a combination of both.

Fixed Retainers

Also called permanent retainers or bonded retainers, these are a type of retainer that you can’t remove by yourself: a professional needs to do it for you. With these, a fixed wire is glued onto the lingual side of your teeth that face the tongue. In other words, it’s a thin wire placed on the back of your teeth that can’t be seen from the outside.

These are usually only placed on the front teeth (either the upper or lower teeth) since these are the ones that have the most tendency to want to shift out of place after treatment. 

The advantages of fixed retainers are that they are on 24/7, so there’s little chance that your teeth will shift abnormally. While this is a drawback for some, it does mean that compliance is a non-issue since it can only be removed by a dentist. These are nice because they’re glued to the back of your teeth, ensuring that no one sees them.

On the flip side, these full-time types of retainers can be tough to clean, especially when it comes to flossing. Be careful when eating certain hard or chewy foods because it can make the wire pop off. This is frustrating for some, especially when these are the same foods you had to avoid for months while wearing braces.

Removable Retainers

As their name implies, removable retainers are removable, temporary alternatives to fixed retainers. These are sort of like clear aligners, as they are made of clear, transparent plastic that clicks into place over your top or bottom teeth to keep them in place. They can also be wire retainers (constructed from a plastic-type material and wire). 

These should be worn overnight, every night. Some dentists might recommend that they be worn all day long, only to be removed when eating or drinking. A major benefit of these is that you can brush and floss like normal and enjoy all the foods and drinks you want.

However, the biggest downfall here is that since they are removable, the failure rate is a lot higher. Many people choose not to wear their retainers for as long as they should, resulting in shifting teeth. Not to mention, the risk of gum disease or cavities is higher with these, as they need to be brushed and cleaned daily to get rid of calcium build-up and other particles.

Besides the clear retainers (called Essix retainers), there is a less popular variation called Hawley retainers that incorporate a piece of wire attached to plastic or acrylic. These work in essentially the same way and require the same level of care.

How Are Retainers Fitted?

The ways that retainers are fitted are dependent on the type of retainer you get. For removable retainers, your provider will first take an impression of your teeth with a soft putty similar in texture to baking dough.

These trays are inserted over your teeth, and your unique dental imprint will then be sent to a lab. Here, professionals will craft a personalized plastic or acrylic retainer that fits into your mouth.

Some dental offices might also take digital impressions, which do not require you to put your teeth in putty. Instead, your provider simply uses a handheld wand to capture images of your teeth and gums that are then stitched together by computer software.

For fixed retainers, your provider will use a metal wire to measure the correct placement on your teeth. This wire is then glued into place and adjusted as necessary. This process takes a tad longer than taking an impression. However, you don’t need to wait for a lab to create the retainer — you get to leave with the retainer the same day.

Importance of Wearing a Retainer

Your teeth will be perfectly aligned after you get your braces or invisible aligners removed. Especially considering that it takes a lot of time, effort, and money to get your teeth straightened, you want to make sure that you’re not throwing away your hard work. 

Retainers keep your teeth straight and prevent them from shifting out of place. Without them, they can become crooked or crowded, possibly leading to an overbite or crossbite. Overbites occur when the top front teeth extend beyond the bottom front teeth. Crossbites happen when your teeth are misaligned, causing the upper and lower jaw to align improperly.

Do Retainers Hurt?

When you wear braces, typically, you’re bound to feel a little bit of discomfort as your teeth are pushed into a new position. However, retainers are no longer shifting your teeth — they’re preventing that from happening. So they shouldn’t hurt when you put them on.

With that said, your retainers might cause some discomfort if you forget to wear them for a period of time and then start wearing them again because your teeth may have slightly shifted out of place. Additionally, if your retainer cracks or breaks, it might cause some pain.

Any type of discomfort you feel is probably your retainer nudging your teeth into the correct alignment. You should only wear your retainers as directed by your dental provider. 

Things To Consider About Your Retainer

Taking care of your new retainer requires responsibility to prevent it from getting lost or damaged.

Keep it in great condition and prevent loss by following these tips:

  • Keep the retainer in its case if you’re not wearing it.
  • Don’t chew gum or eat sticky foods while wearing your retainer.
  • Take your retainer out of your mouth before eating or drinking anything other than water.
  • Don’t put it in a pocket or in a backpack unless you first put it in your retainer case.
  • Keep your retainer away from heat sources, which can warp the piece out of shape.
  • Brush and floss your teeth before placing your retainer.
  • Keep your retainer out of reach of pets.
  • Avoid putting your retainer in napkins or tissues when not in use, as these increase the risk of being accidentally thrown away.

How To Clean a Retainer

Keeping your retainer clean not only extends its lifespan but also prevents unpleasant smells and debris build-up. 

You should brush your removable container with a soft-bristled toothbrush, antibacterial soap, and warm water. Don’t use toothpaste because some of them are too abrasive and might harm your piece. If your retainer starts to become discolored, gently scrub it with water, baking soda, and a soft-bristled brush.

With fixed retainers, you just want to practice good oral hygiene and do your best to floss around it. Hint: a floss threader might make it easier to remove food stuck between the bar and your teeth. 

How Much Does a Retainer Cost?

Retainers are, unfortunately, not usually included in the cost of braces or aligners. The out-of-pocket costs for retainers is around $100 to $500, with clear retainers costing a tad more. 

Insurance companies might cover the cost of retainers, though some won’t. Even if they do, the cost of annual fees and monthly premiums might not make it worth it. But Flossy can save you up to 50% off the cost of common dental treatments — without insurance.

Flossy is a pay-as-you-go service where you only pay for the services you receive. No membership fees, no monthly premiums, and no hidden dues. The price you see is the price you pay.

And all of our dentists are rigorously vetted against a strict set of criteria, so you can rest assured that the procedure you’re receiving is safe, high quality, and effective. Flossy can even save on your orthodontic treatment before you get your retainers.

There’s no waiting period, so sign up today to find a top dentist in your area to start working on your dream version of a smile.

Smile Bigger and Brighter

Retainers do exactly what they say: they retain the appearance of your teeth after getting braces or invisible aligners. They can be made of clear plastic or acrylic, and they’re either permanent or removable. Either way, they are a necessary evil when it comes to preserving your smile after straightening.

But retainers aren’t free, and especially since you need to get them after costly braces and invisible aligners, it can be difficult for some people to access them to enhance their oral health. And when you’re stuck paying out of pocket, it might be even worse.

No insurance? Perfect. Flossy is a pay-as-you-go service that lets you save up to 50% on common dental treatments from braces to Invisalign or root canals to retainers. Contact a dentist in your area today and get started.


Periodontal (Gum) Disease | National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research

Cavities/tooth decay - Symptoms and causes | The Mayo Clinic

Permanent retainer: Pros, cons, and cost | Medical News Today

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