When your orthodontist removes your braces brackets or you take out your last clear aligner, you may think your orthodontic treatment is complete. But there’s still one more crucial stage ahead: retention. Wearing a retainer is an ongoing part of maintaining your newly perfected smile.
Permanent retainers are a time-tested, long-lasting, and discreet retainer model. But are they the right aftercare option for you? That’s what we’re here to explore. In this guide, we’ll give you every important detail about permanent retainers, so you can decide if they’re a good fit for you.
Table of Contents
What is a Permanent Retainer?
A permanent retainer (often called a “bonded” retainer) is of a small wire affixed across the lingual side of 4–6 teeth. Since this wire is behind your teeth, permanent retainers are a highly discreet aftercare option.
However, they’re also the only retainer option that you can’t purchase through online retailers. That’s because you need an orthodontist to bond the wire to your teeth with dental cement at an in-person appointment.
Permanent retainers are a highly convenient aftercare option. There’s a reason people describe this retainer model as “set it and forget it.” With permanent retainers, you won’t need to think about when to wear them or worry about misplacing your retainer, because it’s attached to your teeth.
Only your orthodontist can offer advice about your particular aftercare, but many doctors avoid using permanent retainers for both arches. They more frequently recommend a permanent retainer for a lower arch than an upper one, since your lower teeth can interfere with an upper permanent retainer.
Pros and Cons of Permanent Retainers
Permanent retainers have been a popular aftercare option for decades, but that doesn’t mean they’re the right fit for everyone. Here are some of their main advantages and disadvantages.
Permanent Retainer Advantages
- They’re affixed to the lingual side of your teeth, so they’re highly discreet.
- Permanent retainers won’t change the way you speak.
- Since you’ll always be wearing your permanent retainer, there’s little room for user error.
- Permanent retainers often last over a decade.
- They’re extremely cost effective, thanks to their longevity.
Permanent Retainer Drawbacks
- The wire makes flossing more difficult.
- Permanent retainers aren’t always suitable for both arches.
- Not available through online retailers.
How Long Do Permanent Retainers Last?
Permanent retainers are the longest-lasting option in orthodontic aftercare. With proper care, permanent retainers can last over ten years, and even well beyond two decades.
That said, some people will still need their permanent retainers replaced. Typically, permanent retainer breakage is because of food. Since your permanent retainer is bonded to your teeth, you can’t remove it to eat. But unlike braces, permanent retainers don’t come with a long list of food restrictions. That said, it helps to know what can harm your appliance over time.
Biting into hard foods can put too much pressure on the bonded wire and potentially dislodge it. If you want to extend the lifespan of your retainer, it can help to cut hard foods into smaller bites. Eating a lot of artificial sugar can also negatively affect permanent retainers. Sugars can gradually wear away at the bonding agent attaching the wire to your teeth. Since sugar contributes to other oral health issues like cavities, it’s good to limit your consumption anyway.
How Much Do Permanent Retainers Cost?
Each orthodontist sets their own prices for their retainers, so the average cost can vary significantly. That said, typically you’ll pay $150–$550 per arch. If you have braces, it’s possible your orthodontist already included the cost of a permanent retainer in your initial quote.
If you have orthodontic insurance, it might help pay for your permanent retainer. If not, you can look into financing options, but just like the price tag, they vary between offices.
Are Permanent Retainers Noticeable?
Permanent retainers are perhaps the most discreet retainer option on the market, and they barely affect your speech. Since they sit on the lingual side of your teeth, they’re almost always out of sight. Someone might notice yours if you yawn or open wide to eat an enormous sub sandwich, for example, but most of the time, it’ll stay hidden.
Since the wire is small and unobtrusive, permanent retainers don’t change your speech nearly as much as Hawley or clear retainers. Though people usually get used to talking in their removable retainers over time, permanent retainers don’t require the same adjustment period. You may need to get used to the feeling of the metal near your tongue, but it shouldn’t impede your speech.
How Can I Keep My Permanent Retainer Clean?
Permanent retainers make it slightly harder to floss. Since the retainer wire reaches across several teeth, you won’t be able to slide floss in between those teeth as you did before. Instead, you’ll need to thread the floss beneath the wire. Fortunately, you can purchase floss threaders, which are inexpensive tools to help you slide beneath the wire with little hassle.
If you don’t want to use floss threaders, there are other ways to thread floss beneath your retainer manually. Your orthodontist can give you pointers in person, and YouTube has some excellent how-to videos if you want a refresher at home.
Once you finish flossing, you’ll move on to brushing. Permanent retainers don’t require a complicated brushing routine; just brush vertically against your retainer to reach below the wire, then use circular movements to clean the whole area.
Even though a permanent retainer can extend your daily oral hygiene routine, it’s important to keep the wire clean. Plaque and tartar accumulation around your wire can cause oral health problems in your teeth in gums.
Permanent retainers are a reliable, durable retainer model. But they aren’t the only option worth considering. Here, we’ll compare permanent retainers to the two other retainer models.
Permanent Retainer vs. Hawley Retainers
Hawley retainers are made of wire and acrylic, but unlike permanent retainers, they put the metal in full view. A wire runs across the front of your smile, wrapping around to meet an acrylic plate that rests on either the roof of your mouth or your lower arch. Hawley retainers typically last 5–10 years with proper care and cost $150–$550 per arch. You can purchase them through an orthodontist or select online retainer retailers.
Permanent Retainer vs. Clear Retainers
Clear retainers are thin plastic trays that fit snugly over your smile. Priced between $100 and $400 per arch, clear retainers are usually more affordable initially than permanent retainers. However, clear retainers aren’t as durable, so you have to replace them more often, increasing your expenses in the long run. You can purchase them through an orthodontist or online retailers.
Who Is a Good Candidate for a Permanent Retainer?
Permanent retainers are a great fit for anyone seeking a low-maintenance aftercare option. You won’t need to worry about wear schedules or misplacing your retainer, since you’ll always be wearing it. Plus, these durable and long-lasting retainers keep orthodontist appointments to a minimum.
If budget is a big concern for you, permanent retainers can last over a decade, so this is a highly cost-effective aftercare option in the long run.
Permanent retainers are a long-lasting, discreet aftercare option that is affordable in the long-term. But that doesn’t mean they’re the right fit for everyone. Determining your aftercare priorities will help you choose the best retainer option for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I wear a permanent retainer on both arches?
Your orthodontist can evaluate your particular case, but many doctors discourage wearing a permanent retainer on the upper arch, since your lower teeth can interfere with it.
How long can a permanent retainer last?
Retainer lifespans vary from person to person, but with proper care, a permanent retainer can last well over ten years.
Can a permanent retainer be repaired?
Depending on the damage, orthodontists can sometimes repair permanent retainers. That said, repairing one is usually the same price as replacing it.
Do I have to avoid certain foods with permanent retainers like I did with braces?
Foods aren’t necessarily off limits with a permanent retainer like they are with braces, but it can help to cut hard foods into small bites and mind your sugar consumption, since this can wear down the bonding glue.
Can I order a permanent retainer online?
You can only get a permanent retainer at an in-person appointment, since an orthodontist needs to affix the wire to your teeth.
Can I wear a permanent retainer if I went through Invisalign treatment?
Absolutely, your aftercare is on your terms. Invisalign sells clear aftercare retainers called Vivera, but plenty of people still wear a permanent retainer.
Do permanent retainers add more time to your oral hygiene routine than removable retainers?
Permanent retainers make flossing a little more challenging, but every retainer option adds time to your oral hygiene routine. For example, you need to clean removable retainers thoroughly whenever you take them out.
What is the most affordable aftercare option?
Permanent retainers can be slightly more expensive upfront, but since they last for so many years, they end up being the most cost-effective retainer option overall. That said, clear retainers often have a lower sticker price, but you have to replace them more often.
Is a clear retainer or a permanent retainer more noticeable?
Clear retainers look practically invisible, but since they cover the fronts of your teeth, they’re more noticeable than a permanent retainer, which sits behind the teeth.