What Are the Different Types of Retainers?

One of many different types of retainers.

Seeing your perfect smile for the first time after months of orthodontic work is a true experience. Whether you have been progressing through sets of Invisalign trays or have been wearing braces for a couple of years, the reveal of a beautifully straight set of teeth is undeniably exciting. In addition to the numerous health benefits of orthodontic work, perhaps the greatest benefit is showing off a smile that you absolutely love!

Of course, once your smile is perfectly aligned, it is essential that you put in effort to maintain it—that’s where a retainer comes in. While braces or Invisalign treatment can give you the smile of your dreams, a retainer is what keeps it in place. 

Every tooth is anchored to the gums through a layer of connective tissues. As braces/Invisalign trays reposition teeth during treatment, the movement causes the connective tissues to stretch. Once treatment is complete and the braces/trays are removed, the connective tissues naturally revert to their original shape. This threatens to reverse your orthodontic progress. 

Retainers prevent regression by keeping teeth firmly in place. In this article, we look at the different types of retainers available today and examine which retainer option could be right for your needs:

Retainer Type #1: Hawley Retainer

When most people think of the word “retainer,” the Hawley retainer is likely the type of retainer that they imagine. Invented by Dr. Charles A. Hawley in 1919, Hawley retainers have been a staple of orthodontic treatment for over a century. 

The baseplate of a Hawley retainer is made from plastic or acrylic and is custom made to fit comfortably along the roof of the patient’s mouth or along the inside bottom row of teeth. Emerging from the baseplate is an adjustable metal wire called the “labial wire” that runs on the outside of the teeth. The labial wire rests comfortably on the teeth and prevents them from reverting to their original position. If an orthodontist needs to adjust the retainer’s tightness, the labial wire allows for easy modification.

Hawley retainers generally cost around $150 to $350 and are a comfortable way to maintain a perfect smile. Although there are more inconspicuous options available today, the Hawley retainer is still popular due to its effectiveness, sturdy build, and ease of use. 

Hawley Retainer Pros Hawley Retainer Cons
  • Can last up to 5 to 10 years with proper care
  • Uses adjustable wire
  • Easy to clean
  • Very noticeable to others
  • Slightly more expensive than an Essix retainer
  • May cause lisping at first

Retainer Type #2: Essix Retainer

Like Hawley retainers, Essix retainers are removable at any time. However, they look and feel much different. 

Also known as “clear retainers,” Essix retainers appear nearly identical to Invisalign clear aligners. Made of completely transparent plastic, Essix retainers do not have the conspicuous metal wires that Hawley retainers use to keep teeth in place. Instead, Essix retainers are custom-molded to snuggly fit around the patient’s entire smile, covering both the front and back of teeth. 

Costing around $100 to $500, Essix retainers tend to be more affordable than Hawleys. They are also more inconspicuous—a great quality for those who need to wear retainers outside the house for extended periods. 

For those looking for an affordable retainer with an inconspicuous look, the Essix retainer is likely the best fit. However, if you would prefer a longer-lasting retainer, either the Hawley retainer or permanent bonded retainer will better suit your needs. 

Essix Retainer Pros Essix Retainer Cons
  • Completely transparent appearance
  • Easy to clean
  • Relatively affordable
  • Does not last as long as Hawley retainer or permanent bonded retainer
  • May warp more easily than a Hawley retainer
  • Does not feel as natural on the teeth as a Hawley retainer

Retainer Type #3: Permanent Bonded Retainer

While Hawley and Essix retainers are both removable types of retainers, permanent bonded retainers fall into the category of “fixed” retainer.” Permanent retainers are made of solid or braided metal wire and are cemented directly to the back of the front teeth. These retainers are most commonly placed on the bottom row of teeth, although they can be placed on the top row as well.  

Also called “lingual retainers” or “bonded retainers,” permanent retainers can remain in place for life. The main advantage of permanent retainers is constant retention. Patients with Hawley or Essex retainers are often tempted to stop using their retainers, while patients with permanent retainers never have to worry about wearing a retainer for the proper amount of time. If the permanent retainer needs to be adjusted or becomes damaged, or if the patient simply wants to remove the retainer, an orthodontist can remove it during a simple procedure. 

Permanent retainers are a good option if you want the utmost convenience, constant retention, and a completely inconspicuous look. At the same time, permanent retainers do have some drawbacks. For example, flossing becomes much more difficult once a permanent retainer is installed and many patients report discomfort on the tongue. 

If you think that a permanent retainer is right for you, make sure to discuss all of your options with a professional orthodontist before deciding whether this option is right for you. 

Permanent Retainer Pros Permanent Retainer Cons
  • Completely conspicuous appearance retains teeth at all hours of the day
  • Complicates oral care may cause tongue cuts or general discomforts

Have More Questions about the Different Types of Retainers? Beverly Hills Orthodontics Has Answers

Whether you’re looking for a new retainer or just starting your orthodontic journey, the team at Beverly Hills Orthodontics is here to help. Since 2008, BHO has provided the greater Los Angeles area with top-notch oral care. Offering Invisalign, accelerated orthodontic treatment, and braces to both teens and adults, Beverly Hills Orthodontics has the skills and services to provide you with the perfect smile. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.