The Different Types of Orthodontic Retainers

After lengthy orthodontic treatment, you’ll want to do everything possible to maintain your newly formed smile. Retainers are non-negotiable if you’d like to ensure that your teeth do not return to their former crooked state.

When the long-awaited day arrives for the braces to be removed, your orthodontist will fit you for either fixed or removable retainers. The choice may vary based on your particular case. Each device is custom made, and you should view it as an investment in the longevity of your teeth’s straightened appearance.

To help you prepare for the type of retainers you may end up wearing, and what that could mean for your daily hygiene and maintenance routine, we’ve explained the differences in this post.

Fixed retainers

What are they?

A fixed retainer is a permanent device, usually bonded to the inside of the lower set of teeth – meaning that it’s mostly invisible. It is a thin wire that is cemented into a similar position to where the braces would have been.


  • This option is excellent for younger patients who may be more likely to forget to wear the retainer or lose it.
  • You do not have to remove the device in order to eat, and as long as you keep on top of hygiene and maintenance, it’s a very effective and manageable option.

Care and maintenance

  • It is imperative that you keep on top of your oral hygiene with this kind of retainer.
  • Food and plaque buildup are a common issue for patients with fixed retainers; you will have to use floss threaders to get into the areas that floss alone cannot reach.
  • If you play contact sports, you may need a new mouth guard to accommodate your retainer.
  • It is advised that you avoid sugary, sticky, chewy and hard foods – eating these could damage your retainer.

Removable retainers

The Hawley retainer

What is it?

The Hawley retainer is a metal wire which usually encompasses the six front teeth and is held in place by a pair of clasps and an acrylic plate which is positioned in the palate.  

Care and maintenance

  • Daily cleaning is essential to ensuring that food particles and bacteria are eliminated.
  • You will have to remove the Hawley retainer when eating to prevent food from getting trapped under the plate.
  • The retainer will also have to come out for contact sports or swimming.
  • You’ll need to be wary of sugary, sticky foods and hot drinks, just as you would with the fixed retainer.

Vacuum-formed (Essix) retainer

What is it?

A more aesthetically pleasing variant is the Essix retainer: a transparent plastic mould, which fits snugly over your teeth.

Care and maintenance

  • You’ll have to remove the retainer in order to eat and ensure that you rinse it in cold water before placing it back in your mouth.
  • Gently brush and disinfect the retainer as often as possible.
  • Never use hot water to wash your Essix retainer as it is heat sensitive.
  • Make sure that your teeth and gums are clean before wearing.

Both the Hawley and the removable plastic retainers are custom moulded to your mouth, making it very important for you to take good care of them. It can take a considerable amount of time to remake a removable retainer and every day without you wearing it is an opportunity for the elastic fibres in your gums to attempt repositioning your teeth into their former state and reversing some of the progress you have made by wearing braces.

What next?

In most cases, you should be prepared for a long-term commitment of wearing and caring for your retainers. Your orthodontist will tell you how often and for how long you will have to wear the device – it’s important that you stick to the plan.

Like your braces, the retainers will take some getting used to. Initially, you may experience extra saliva buildup as well as changes to your speech. Your orthodontist will be able to advise you on the best way to manage this, and with regular check-ups and good oral hygiene practice, you should be able to enjoy the great results from your treatment for years to come.

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