Completing orthodontic treatment like braces or Invisalign is an exciting day. After months or years of treatment, you are finally left with a beautiful, straight smile to share with the world. Many people do not realize that finishing these treatments is actually not the end of their orthodontic journey. Upon completion of Invisalign or removal of braces, you will be given a retainer to wear so that your teeth stay in the desired position.

The bones and ligaments of the mouth are constantly moving, including teeth! This means that even though you may have completed braces or Invisalign treatment, your teeth still tend to move out of place. Retainers are needed to hold your teeth in the proper position after treatment and to give surrounding gum and tissue time to acclimate to the new position of your teeth and jaw. In the first 4-6 months after completing treatment, your teeth will try to move back to their original position. This process, called relapse, is when it is most important to wear your retainers. Without retainers, all the progress and effort of orthodontic treatment could be lost, so it is imperative that you follow your orthodontist’s directions after revealing your beautiful smile!

Types of Retainers

There are multiple types of retainers on the market, each with their own pros and cons. One type of retainer may work better for you based on your preferences and lifestyle, so be sure to discuss your expectations with your orthodontist when deciding which kind of retainer to use.

  • Hawley wire retainers include a wire that surrounds the six anterior teeth and a plastic or acrylic section shaped to fit the roof of the mouth. This kind of retainer is removable and can be used to achieve minor adjustments of the front teeth, even after removing braces or Invisalign. Hawley retainers are very durable and can last up to 20 years if maintained properly. Since they are removable, it is easy to keep Hawley retainers clean, as well as attend to dental hygiene. Hawley wire retainers cost between $150-$340 for one retainer (either top or bottom).
  • Fixed retainers are made of a metal wire, typically copper, titanium, nickel, or a combination. The wire sits on the backside of teeth to keep them from moving out of place. Fixed retainers are a great option for accident-prone people since they cannot be removed or lost! These retainers require a bit more care and attention in the dental hygiene area, so if you opt for a fixed retainer, make sure that you are brushing properly and flossing regularly. We recommend using floss threaders to pass dental floss through the small spaces between the retainer and the teeth to avoid any food particles getting stuck between the wire and teeth for patients with fixed retainers. Fixed retainers are very durable, lasting indefinitely if taken care of well. These retainers cost anywhere from $225-$550 for one arch.
  • Removable clear plastic retainers look similar to the aligners used during Invisalign treatment. These retainers are removable and made of a thin layer of plastic or polyurethane, so you can wear them in public places without others noticing. Some people have a slight speech impediment while wearing clear retainers, but this often goes away after wearing the retainer for a few weeks. Since these retainers are removable, there is a higher chance of losing or damaging your retainer. We recommend always putting your clear retainers back in the case they came in, rather than placing them in a tissue or napkin, as this often leads to retainers being thrown away by accident. Removable plastic retainers make it easy to keep up with dental hygiene since there are no wires in the way of brushing or flossing. One retainer can cost anywhere from $100-$300, so be sure to keep track of your retainers!

Those who choose removable retainers will need to wear the retainer full time for the first 4-6 months after finishing treatment. The only times you should remove your retainer is during meal times and while brushing or flossing. After 6 months, patients can usually cut down to only wearing their retainer at night, but you should double-check with your orthodontist before switching to only night-time wear. We understand that it can be hard to remember to wear your retainers and keep them clean, but these devices greatly impact keeping your teeth straight and maintaining all the hard work from braces or Invisalign.