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What kind of retainers are there?

Most people know what retainers are, but did you know that there are several different types of retainers?

First, let’s discuss why retainers are important. After orthodontic treatment, teeth can have a tendency to return to their original positions. This is because teeth are connected to the jawbone by a ligament called the periodontal ligament. It can take several years for the ligament to adjust to the new tooth position. There are also pressures from eating, swallowing and talking which can put pressure on the teeth. During this time, we recommend frequent use of retainers to resist undesirable tooth movement. Our teeth have a tendency to move throughout our lifetime, so some type of long-term retainer wear is helpful if you want to keep those teeth straight! Once your orthodontic treatment is done, we will give you specific recommendations about your retainers for long-term success.

There are three main types of retainers: Hawley, Essix, and Bonded. Here are the differences:


This is a traditional retainer that has a wire that goes across the front teeth and acrylic on the inside of the teeth. There are usually some small metal bars that help hold on to the back molars as well. Hawley retainers are extremely long lasting, but they do take a few days to get used to.


This is a clear plastic retainer that covers all of the teeth. It holds the teeth very well and is much less noticeable then a traditional retainer. It can protect teeth if you tend to grind or clench. These retainers are not as long-lasting and will need to be replaced periodically.


A bonded retainer is a sturdy wire that is adhered to the back surface of some teeth. It is considered “semi-permanent” since it stays in place unless you have an orthodontist or dentist remove it. This retainer is nice because you don’t have to remember to wear it, but you do need to take more effort to clean around it. I’ve had my bonded retainer since age 13!

When someone is done with treatment, we advise each patient about the different types of retainers, especially if one would work best over the others. If you have any questions about retainers or orthodontic treatment, please give us a call!