In this blog post, we’ll be talking about removable retainer options. Your dentist can discuss the best retainer for your smile as there are pros and cons to each type. This is something that you may want to discuss with your dentist even before you start braces or aligners.

A retainer keeps your teeth from moving after they’ve been straightened with braces. Several decades ago, dentists recommended retainers for only 3-6 months, but we’ve found now that retainers should be worn for life to ensure the best long-term outcome.

Hawley Retainers

Lab Fee: $80-150

Biomaterials: plastic or acrylic with metal wire

Longevity: 1–50 years


• adjustable

• can choose plastic color to personalize

• doesn’t stain easily

• easily removed for eating and oral hygiene and won’t likely need replacement unless major dental work is done.

• metal wire visible in front of teeth

• can be lost or damaged

Also called wire retainers, these are removable retainers made of thin metal wire and plastic or acrylic and are shaped to fit the roof of your mouth or along the inside of your lower teeth. The attached metal wire runs across the outside of your teeth to maintain alignment. A local lab usually makes these unless the dentist has an orthodontic technician in-house.

The retainer is adjustable if you need a better fit when you first get it or if your teeth need slight realignment later.
It’s more durable than a clear plastic retainer.
It can last for years if used and cared for properly (note: the author has had hers for 25 years and it has never needed an adjustment!)
It allows the bite to settle fully and balance because the teeth can touch, which may be better for the TMJ.
Its disadvantages:

It affects your speech more than other retainers.
It’s more noticeable than the other types of retainers.
It initially costs more than a clear retainer, but it is more economical over a lifetime.
Clear Retainers

These are removable retainers that are molded to fit perfectly within the new position of your teeth. To make this type of retainer, a mold or scan of the teeth is created, and that image is 3D printed. Then, very thin plastic or polyurethane is heated and sucked down around the mold. It is not advisable to use your last aligner as a retainer because it isn’t thick enough to hold the teeth straight long term.

Essix®, Vivera®, Zendura®- Lab Fees:

• $275 for four upper/four lower for Vivera

• Essix $30-$70 per retainer from an orthodontic lab. Or, make your own Essix or Zendura A in-house if you have a Biostar and 3D printer at $3 a retainer.


* plastic or polyurethane


6–12+ months


• fitted so that teeth stay in place better

• thin and easy to talk

• clear/invisible

• convenient to have multiple back-up pairs made

• easily removed for eating and oral hygiene

• may need yearly replacement so this can get expensive over a lifetime

•may need new impressions and retainers if any dental work that changes shape or size (filling)

•easier to lose or damage

A clear plastic retainer has the following advantages:

It’s invisible.
It’s less bulky and may be more comfortable than a Hawley.
It’s less likely to affect your speech than a Hawley retainer.
Disadvantages of a clear retainer:

It’s not adjustable if you need realignment or if you get new fillings or dental work. It would need to be replaced every time. Often the doctor will charge not only for the new retainer but also the new scan/impression. This will get expensive over a lifetime.
If it cracks or breaks, it can’t be repaired.
It can warp if exposed to heat (e.g. left in a car.)
You may need five, ten, or more retainers PER arch in a lifetime. Each one lasts an average of 6 months.
It tends to become discolored (and more visible) over time.
Top and bottom teeth don’t touch naturally with this type of retainer.
It can trap liquids and bacteria against your teeth, which can cause cavities and periodontal disease.
The main difference in the three common brands of clear retainers is the type of plastic material they are made of. The brands are Vivera®, Essix®, and Zendura®. Vivera is sometimes incorrectly called Invisalign®. The same company makes the two products, but Invisalign is an aligner used to straighten teeth instead of metal braces. It is not a retainer.

There are pros and cons to each retainer type. Your orthodontist will recommend the best type for you based on your teeth and why you need braces. But don’t forget to consider your preferences on the look and amount of time and effort you are willing to spend on it. You will most likely be using and maintaining your retainer for a lifetime, so it’s important that you have the retainer that works best for you. Dentists: If you have questions about setting up your retainer options, please visit us at