Getting the smile of your dreams takes hard work. From the time commitment to the price tag, orthodontia is a big investment. When you finally get your ideal smile, you’ll want to do everything you can to protect it. The best way to do that? Aftercare retainers.
Orthodontia has come a long way over the years, and retainers are no exception. You no longer have to wield a mouth full of metal to preserve your smile. In the new era of discreet orthodontia, clear retainers are the go-to aftercare option for many adults. But are they the right fit for you? This guide has all the important details you need to decide if they’re a good fit.
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Pros and Cons of Clear Retainers
Clear retainers are a great way to preserve your hard-earned smile, but that doesn’t mean they’re perfect for everyone. Here, we’ll examine their main pros and cons.
- Though the price can vary, clear retainers often have the lowest sticker price of any aftercare option.
- Clear plastic trays are pretty discreet.
- They’re fairly comfortable.
- You can purchase them through online retailers, eliminating the need for in-person office visits.
- Clear retainers are removable, so you won’t have dietary restrictions.
- Major dental work like crowns or fillings may affect the fit of your retainers.
- They require more frequent replacement than other aftercare options.
- You’re responsible for remembering to wear them.
How/Where Can I Buy Clear Retainers?
If you’ve just concluded an orthodontic treatment like braces or Invisalign, you can get a retainer from your provider. They’ll take scans or impressions of your smile and send them to the lab for manufacturing. This process usually requires two in-person appointments — one for the scans and one for picking up your finished product.
If you want to avoid in-person appointments, you can also purchase clear retainers through reputable online retailers. Instead of appointments, these companies create your retainers based on an impression kit you complete at home and return to the company.
How Long Do They Last?
On average, a clear retainer can last from six months to three years. That said, clear retainers can use a variety of plastics, each with their own durability and average lifespan. However, your habits can also affect the lifespan of a retainer.
For example, if you wear your retainers full-time, you’ll naturally need to replace them more frequently than someone who just wears theirs overnight. Similarly, if you suffer from bruxism or clench your jaw, you’ll wear through your retainers quicker.
Lifestyle choices also affect your clear retainer’s lifespan. For example, it’s crucial you remove your retainers when you eat or drink anything other than water. Our jaws are stronger than we think, so chewing can seriously damage them. Plus, the pigmentation in food and drinks can stain them over time.
Saliva is the housecleaner of your mouth, and retainers prevent it from easily accessing your teeth. So if you have food particles and bacteria sitting beneath your retainers, you’ll be at risk for cavities and other oral health issues.
What Are Clear Retainers Made of?
The exact type of plastic can vary, but certain brands of plastic are pretty popular across the industry. SmartTrack plastic, for example, is what Invisalign uses for both their aligners and their Vivera retainers. Invisalign claims this plastic is 30% stronger and twice as durable as the competition. Essix plastic is another popular brand — it comes in varying durability, but maintains a thin, comfortable profile. Zendura is another strong yet highly flexible option.
These are not the only reputable brands of plastic, but they’re used frequently across multiple providers.
How Can I Extend the Lifespan of My Retainers?
Keeping your retainer clean and properly stored are two simple and effective ways to extend its life. Whenever you aren’t wearing or cleaning your retainers, they should be in a hard protective case. Make sure to clean your retainer according to the specific guidelines of your provider whenever you remove it.
How Much Do Clear Retainers Cost?
Aftercare is an ongoing responsibility, and since you’ll need to replace your retainers occasionally, it’s an ongoing expense, too. Clear retainers are typically less expensive than other retainer options, but you need to replace them more often.
Clear retainers can cost anywhere from $100–$400 per arch. Orthodontists set their own prices, so the cost of your retainer can vary depending on the cost of living in your city and other factors. Typically, online retainer retailers offer lower prices than in-office options, since they have less overhead.
If you have orthodontic insurance, you may receive partial coverage for your retainers. Typically, insurance companies are more likely to reimburse retainers purchased through orthodontists than online retailers. That said, many online retailers offer financing or accept payments through HSA accounts, so there is more than one way to make clear retainers more affordable.
Are Clear Retainers Noticeable While Wearing?
Producers usually design their retainers as either clear and shiny, or matte and slightly translucent. The clearer the retainer, the less visible, right? Well, it’s actually not that simple. Our teeth have porous surfaces, so a matte retainer will better mimic your natural smile. That said, most people eventually just wear their retainers overnight, so you might not care about the way they reflect light.
Though some plastics may be more noticeable than others, this is still a highly discreet form of aftercare. However, it’s important to keep your retainer clean. Otherwise, plaque buildup can make your retainer look cloudy.
Noticeability isn’t just a matter of appearances. Many people worry their retainer will affect their speech. It can take a few days to adjust to speaking while wearing your retainers, but the changes are usually temporary. The more you talk while wearing them, the quicker you’ll adjust.
Alternatives to Clear Retainers
Plastic retainers are a discreet, comfortable aftercare option, but they aren’t the only retainer model worth considering. Here, we’ll explore how clear retainers compare to other aftercare options.
Clear Retainers vs. Hawley Retainers
Hawley retainers are made of wire and acrylic. The wire sits on the front of your smile, wrapping around key teeth to meet an acrylic plate that rests on your upper or lower arch. Naturally, Hawley retainers are more noticeable than clear plastic options, but with an average lifespan of 5–10 years, they also last longer.
Priced between $150–$550, the initial investment may be slightly steeper for a Hawley retainer. However, because you don’t have to replace them as often, they’re more affordable in the long-term.
Clear Retainers vs. Permanent Retainers
Though plastic retainers have a low profile, there’s no aftercare more discreet than a permanent retainer, which is a small wire bonded behind 4–6 teeth. The initial expense of $150–$500 is typically higher than what you’d pay for a clear retainer, but this option can last decades, so it’s highly affordable in the long run.
Permanent retainers are the only retainer model not available through online retailers, because they require an in-person appointment for the retainer bonding.
Clear retainers are an affordable way to protect your smile after orthodontic treatment. With the freedom to purchase these trays in-person from an orthodontist or online, they offer a high level of convenience and flexibility.
Though there are many advantages to clear retainers, they aren’t the only available aftercare option. But if you’re seeking an affordable, discreet retainer option, they may be a good match for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I know when to replace my clear retainer?
If your retainer has been damaged or feels loose, it’s probably time to replace it.
Should I purchase my retainers in bulk?
It’s helpful to have a backup on hand in case you lose or break your retainer unexpectedly. That said, clear retainers fit snugly around your teeth, so if you have major dental work done like crowns or fillings, your retainers may no longer fit your bite.
Are all clear retainers the same?
Clear retainers are made with a variety of different plastics, each with its own durability and lifespan.
Will a plastic retainer affect my speech?
There can be an adjustment period with any dental appliance, and retainers are no exception. The more you speak while wearing your retainers, the quicker you’ll adjust.
Can I eat while wearing a clear retainer?
No. Remove your clear retainer when consuming anything other than water. Chewing can damage your retainer, and pigments from food or drinks can stain them. Plus, retainers can trap food particles and bacteria on your teeth, potentially leading to oral health concerns.
Are clear retainers the longest lasting aftercare option?
Clear retainers are not the longest lasting aftercare option. Hawley retainers typically last 5–10 years, and permanent retainers can last well over a decade if you care for them properly.
How often should I wear my aftercare retainers?
Your orthodontic provider can offer specific wear guidelines, but people generally wear retainers full-time for the first few months after their treatment. When your provider gives you the go-ahead, you can switch to overnight wear, which you’ll continue indefinitely.
Will a plastic retainer align my smile?
A well-fitting plastic retainer should not shift your smile at all. Instead, it should keep your teeth in their current positions.
My teeth have shifted since I stopped wearing a retainer, how can I prevent future shifting?
If you stopped wearing a retainer and your smile shifted, getting fit for another retainer and wearing it diligently can help you avoid future shifting.
Do I need to attend in-person appointments to get an aftercare retainer?
If you purchase a retainer from your orthodontist’s office, you’ll need to attend in-person appointments. However, there are also online retainer retailers that don’t require appointments. Instead, they’ll craft your retainers from an impression kit that you complete at home and return by mail.