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What Type of Orthodontic Retainer Should I Choose?

Updated on December 18, 2014
Hawley Retainer is the most popular orthodontic retainer
Hawley Retainer is the most popular orthodontic retainer | Source

There are many types of orthodontic retainers available to choose from when your braces are removed or when you are looking for replace an existing retainer. These types include the Hawley, Essix and permanent/fixed. Each of these types has their own advantages and disadvantages of course and making the choice between these types can be difficult. Some people may even choose to have two types. In this article we will explore the various types of retainers and the pros and cons of each in order to help you make this choice.

The most popular and oldest type of retainer is called the Hawley Retainer. This type of retainer is known to last a long time (less likely to break or wear out than other removable retainers). This retainer is removable and the wire can be adjusted to make changes to the teeth if needed. With this type of retainer the top and bottom teeth will touch each other when biting down, allowing a natural bite. Food can be eaten while wearing a Hawley retainer. This retainer will be visible by its telltale wire across the front of the teeth. Many colors and designs are available for the bite plate section of the retainer which can be fun. This type of retainer should be stored in a case especially since dogs are fond of chewing on them, and as a result, breaking them and/or taking chunks out of the bite plate section. Dog owners beware.

In an effort to make the Hawley Retainer less visible, a new type of Hawley Retainer was developed where the front wire is replaced with a molded piece of clear plastic called the ASTICS. This retainer is as effective as the Hawley, remains adjustable like the Hawley, but is more easily broken and is not recommended for children.

The Essix Retainer is nearly invisible and resembles Invisalign aligners
The Essix Retainer is nearly invisible and resembles Invisalign aligners | Source

A newer type of retainer, which is nearly invisible, was developed more recently. This is called the Essix Retainer. This retainer eliminates the need of having an obvious wire visible on the front of the teeth and also eliminates the biteplate. This type of retainer is revolutionary and is similar appears similar to the popular invisalign retainer trays that work to shift teeth over time. These types of retainers cost less than the Hawley retainer and they don’t allow the teeth to make contact when biting down. Many people find this type of retainer most comfortable, and with the benefit of being invisible this is the obvious choice of retainer for many.

Woman Wearing Essix (invisalign type) Retainer which is practically invisible
Woman Wearing Essix (invisalign type) Retainer which is practically invisible | Source

Some orthodontists highly recommend a permanent or fixed retainer since it eliminates the issue of remembering to wear the retainer and the possibility of losing or breaking the retainer. With this method, the orthodontist permanently affixes a wire on the inside of the teeth. It is applied similar to the way that standard braces are attached, but without brackets. While a convenient and fairly inexpensive method of retaining the teeth, having the affixed wire present makes it difficult to floss the teeth where the wire is. While the flossing is one issue another is comfort, this method might not bother some but can be excruciatingly annoying to others.

Comparing Retainers

Essex (invisalign type)
More Expensive
Less Expensive
More Expensive
Less Comfortable
More Comfortable
Least Comfortable
Eating with Retainer
Ability to Clean Teeth
More difficult
Minor Teeth Adjustments can be made
Effects Speech
Likely, often goes away over time
Slightly, will go away after a few days
Top and bottom teeth touch
Nearly invisible
No, The ASTICS is less visible
Very Durable
Less Durable
Moderately Durable
Easy to Lose
Less easy to lose
Easiest to lose
Impossible to lose

How long do I need to wear my retainer?

Orthodontists are now recommending that patients continue to wear their retainer for the rest of their life, this is because the teeth can shift out of their new position. The amount of shifting varies from person to person. This approach is very different from that of a generation ago when a retainer was worn for a short period of time and then forgotten about, with many patients the teeth shifted, requiring a repeat of orthodontic work causing frustration and costing time and money.

After the braces are removed, your orthodontist will recommend full time retainer wear and later shift to nighttime only wear or perhaps wearing the retainer 3-5 nights a week.

So there you have it, there are a fair variety of options when it comes to choosing a retainer. Sometimes the orthodontist will advise you on which type of retainer to choose, but often times, the choice is left up to the patient and their parents. This article help you to better understand you options when it comes to choosing a retainer. This article gives an overview of the pros and cons of the Hawley, Hawley ASTICS, Essex as well as the permanent/fixed type of orthodontic dental retainer.

© 2014 Ariel Laur


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