Did you recently finish treatment with braces or clear aligners? If so, you’re probably sick of having plastic and metal in your mouth and excited to show off your new smile. I bet you weren’t thrilled when your dentist suggested you start wearing a retainer.
If you’re like most people, one of these thoughts has probably crossed your mind:
- a retainer will be uncomfortable
- a retainer will be a hassle to clean and keep track of
- a retainer will look funny
- a retainer will interfere with my speech
Fortunately, you’ll typically have some options when it comes to picking out a retainer. With a bit of research and a conversation with your dental professional, you can find a retainer that’s comfortable and works well for you. Getting set up with the right retainer means you’ll get the most out of it. That’s a win-win for you and your teeth!
What are my options when choosing a retainer?
The most common types of retainers are Hawley retainers, Essix retainers, and bonded retainers. Hawley retainers and Essix retainers are known as “temporary retainers.” You can remove them yourself whenever you want. Bonded retainers, also known as “fixed retainers,” must be attached and removed by a dental professional. A fixed retainer is typically not used alone, but in combination with a temporary retainer.
In general, your main options when picking out a retainer are:
- What type of temporary retainer to use (Essix vs Hawley)
- Whether or not to use a bonded retainer
Hawley Retainers: The Classic Option
With its thin metal band covering the front of the teeth, Hawley retainers are what most people think of when they hear the word “retainer.” The Hawley retainer is named after its inventor, Charles Hawley. This type of retainer has been in popular use since the early 20th century. It remains the most popular type of retainer for the upper teeth to this day.
A Hawley Retainer comes in two pieces. An upper retainer includes a hard, acryllic baseplate that fits into the roof of the mouth and a metal wire that wraps around the upper teeth. A lower Hawley baseplate fits along the lower gum-line with a wire that wraps around the lower teeth.
Advantages of Hawley Retainers
- Highly durable: Designed to last for many years, and sturdy enough to clean with your toothbrush.
- Lets teeth settle naturally: Does not cover the tops and bottoms of your teeth, allowing you to bite down naturally. This may help your teeth settle into their new positions faster and prevent unwanted shifting.
- Can be used for minor adjustments: the metal wires can be adjusted by an orthodontist to help expand the dental arch or continue moving teeth slightly if they shift out of place.
Disadvantages of Hawley Retainers
- Potentially less comfortable: For some individuals with a strong gag reflex, having the roof of the mouth covered by a Hawley retainer can be uncomfortable.
- Somewhat visible: while much less visible than traditional metal braces, others may notice you are wearing a retainer.
- Interferes with speech: Your voice will likely sound a bit unusual while wearing your retainer
Note: Clearbow offers a Hawley retainer with a clear, plastic front that is much less visible than a traditional metal wire
Essix Retainers: Just Like Clear Aligners
Essix retainers fit completely over the teeth and look just like clear aligners. You could easily mistake Essix retainers for an Invisalign tray. In fact, Align Tech, the makers of Invisalign, actually offer a popular brand of Essix retainer known as Vivera retainers.
To create an Essix retainer, an orthodontist takes a mold of your upper and lower teeth. An upper rand lower hawley retainer is then vacuum formed using the molds.
Advantages of Essix Retainers
- Comfortable: Doesn’t cover the palate (top of the mouth) or gums and isn’t made with metal or hard materials that can irritate the gums
- Practically invisible: People will hardly notice you are wearing these completely clear retainers.
- Great for preventing tooth rotation: Essix retainers are particularly effective of preventing your canine teeth from rotating sideways.
- Cheap: Many orthodontists can create this type of retainer right from their office.
Disadvantages of Essix Retainers
- Less durable: Essix retainers tend to stretch out of time over time and may need to be replaced. If you are someone who tends to grind their teeth, it’s possible to bite through your retainer.
- Not for soda drinkers: You should stick to drinking just water while wearing your retainer. Sugary drinks will stain your Essix retainer and can lead to tooth decay.
- Small risk of developing an open bite: Because Essix retainers surround your teeth and prevent them from closing naturally, there is a small risk that they may cause temporary “posterior open bite.” That means that your back teeth do not close properly.
Essix Retainers vs Hawley Retainers: Which is right for you?
In some cases, your dental professional may strongly recommend a certain type of retainer for important functional reasons. For example:
- If you have a missing tooth, you’ll probably have better results with an Essix retainer
- If your canines were heavily rotated before your teeth were straightened, you’ll probably have better results with an Essix retainer
- If you tend to grind your teeth at night, you’ll probably have better results with a Hawley retainer
- If you had cross-bite or a narrowed arch prior to having your teeth straightened, you’ll probably have better results with a Hawley
However, for most people, Essix and Hawley retainers are equally effective. Therefore, you should typically opt for the type of retainer that you will find most comfortable for day-to-day use. If you’re unsure, we recommend that you start out with an Essix retainer. In surveys, about two thirds of retainer users prefer Essix retainers over Hawley retainers. Either way, if you find yourself uncomfortable with the retainer your dentist has provided, ask to try out a different kind. He or she would much prefer you speak up then simply stop using your retainer!
Bonded Retainer: Worth it?
A bonded retainer consists of a wire that is glued to the front six teeth. Typically, a bonded retainer is only used on the lower front teeth as they are especially prone to shifting and crowding after orthodontics. A bonded retainer can also be used on the upper front teeth, however this practice is much less common. A bonded retainer is typically used in combination with a temporary retainer that is worn at night.
If your teeth started out with severe spacing or rotations, your dental professional may strongly encourage a fixed retainer. However, in many cases, whether you use one or not is matter of preference. While some appreciate the simplicity of a fixed retainer (you’ll never forget to wear them!), others find them uncomfortable or worry they will interfere with flossing and brushing. Keep in mind – a bonded retainer may come unglued every few years and need to be fixed by a dentist.
If you’re on the fence about a fixed retainer, consider whether you’ll use a temporary retainer consistently. If you are confident that you will use your retainer reliably over the long term, there’s really no need for a bonded retainer. However, if you’re like most people and don’t keep perfect habits, you should carefully consider a bonded retainer for your lower teeth.