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Orthodontic Retainers 101: What You Need to Know


Orthodontic retainers are removable dental devices that are custom made to fit over your teeth to help maintain the position of your teeth after orthodontic treatment.

The most common types of retainers an orthodontist prescribes after treatment are:


Permanent retainers:  This style is bonded to the back of your teeth, so you can’t remove them.  You may prefer this style if you want them to be invisible when you smile, but they can be more difficult to clean around.







Hawley retainers:  This style is made of colorful acrylic and wire molded to your mouth.  Because they are removable, they are convenient and easy to clean.







Essix retainers:  This style is made of transparent plastic molded to the unique shape of your teeth. They are virtually invisible and removable, making them a very popular choice.










Someone who has had their teeth aligned with braces or aligners wears a retainer.  Retainers are typically the final phase of orthodontic treatment and help ensure that your teeth stay in their new position.

Once you have completed orthodontic treatment and are wearing a retainer, you will still return to your orthodontist periodically for checkups.  Sometimes during these appointments, the orthodontist makes adjustments, such as bending or trimming wires for increased comfort and to maintain a good fit.


The length of time you will wear a retainer depends on your specific course of treatment.  Often times a permanent retainer is in place indefinitely, or you may opt to replace it with a removable style at some point.

Your orthodontist will encourage you to wear your retainer for as long as you want to maintain your treatment results throughout your lifetime.  They will usually suggest you wear a removable style close to 24 hours per day for the first 3-6 months and then during sleeping hours only thereafter.


The following precautions are recommended to enhance the lifespan and ensure the efficacy of your retainer:

  • Wear the retainers as your orthodontist instructs.
  • Avoid eating or drinking anything other than water while wearing removable retainers.
  • Be careful while removing your retainers. Use your right and left index fingers and pull down at the near your premolars on both sides simultaneously.
  • Store your retainers in their case when you are not wearing them.
  • Consult your orthodontist if the retainers become uncomfortable.


Retainer care is fairly simple.  Follow your orthodontist’s instructions for cleaning and care of your retainer.  Normally this will include brushing the retainer daily with tepid water and mild antibacterial soap using a soft bristle toothbrush.  Soaking your retainer in an approved effervescent cleanser once a week or so may also be recommended.  Removable retainers should be kept away from all heat sources including, but not limited to, hot water, direct sunlight, hot car, heat vents, stoves, and so on, to avoid deformation.