What Are Retainers?

When the time comes for your kids to shed off their braces, it’s exciting to see their new set of better-aligned teeth. However, it’s also time to think about the next step to complete the process: retainers. What are the advantages and disadvantages of wearing retainers? Are retainers really expensive? What should you expect after the retainers are fitted? All these are natural questions that most parents have. This article will detail everything you need to know about retainers.


girls smiling

What Exactly Are Retainers?

Retainers are customized medical devices made up of clear plastic and wires that hold teeth in position after teeth realigning treatments such as braces. Retainers are fitted to keep teeth aligned and to prevent them from shifting. The teeth are held together by networked fibers called periodontal ligaments. After your teeth have been shifted into position by wearing braces, it takes a few months for your periodontal ligaments to adjust to the new position. During this period, retainers hold your teeth in place while your periodontal ligaments get used to holding your teeth in the new position.

Your orthodontist can also prescribe retainers in the following situations:

  • As an alternative to braces if your teeth are slightly misaligned and only affects one or two teeth.
  • To close gaps in the teeth which may impede speech. With dental imperfection differing from one patient to the next, retainers are custom made to address specific individual needs.

It is important to note that their frequency of use tapers off over time. This means you might be advised to wear them all the time, then scale back to only using them overnight.

Which is Better: Retainers or Braces

Both retainers and braces are used to correct malocclusion and misalignment of teeth. However, for minor cases, your orthodontist is likely to lean more towards retainers than braces.

The two also work hand in hand, one treatment complementing the other. When your orthodontist prescribes braces due to the severity of your teeth’s misalignment, they will follow this up with retainers when the braces come off, to ensure your teeth stay in the corrected position.

For this reason, if you are wondering “which is better: retainers or braces?”, the answer is none is better than the other. The two complement more than they compete against each other. And the severity of a patient’s problem usually dictates which treatment an orthodontist recommends.

What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Wearing Retainers?

Once your orthodontist prescribes retainers, the next question you might ask is “what are the advantages and disadvantages of wearing retainers?” To answer this question, it’s best to understand the different types of retainers and the features of each.


There are three types of retainers.

1. A Vacuum Form Retainer (VFR)

This is a clear, horseshoe-shaped retainer that will snuggly fit over your teeth.

  • The fact that they are clear makes them harder to notice and therefore aesthetically pleasing. For self-conscious kids and teenagers, these are a great option.
  • They are less bulky than other retainers which increases their comfort value.
  • Constant teeth grinding can spoil their surface. This makes them a bad choice for some patients.

2. A Hawley Retainer

This is the traditional retainer, made of acrylic and metal wire. It has a piece of plastic formed to lie against the roof of your mouth. This piece is attached to a wire that fits intimately over the outer part of your teeth.

  • This type of retainer is less fragile and more durable than the VFR.
  • Your orthodontist can tinker with them to make adjustments for a better fit. If in the course of wearing them, for example, a few of your teeth shift slightly, your orthodontist can adjust the wire and re-align them. This is the Hawley’s retainer’s greatest strength.
  • On the flip side, they are not as visually appealing as the VFR, and some patients report trouble swallowing and talking when using them.

3. Fixed Lingual Retainer

This is made by affixing a wire to the back of your teeth. If your teeth have wide spaces between them or are very crooked, your orthodontist is likely to recommend permanent retainers.

  • A plus for this type of retainer is that it is permanent. This takes away the stress of removing and remembering to put them back on. For younger kids, this is an excellent quality that allows them to go about their life without this process.
  • They remain hidden at the back of a patient’s mouth, again making them a great choice for kids and teens as well as image-conscious adults.
  • The reduced handling (inserting and removing) also makes permanent retainers last over long periods of time, as compared to removable retainers.
  • The downside, however, is that they are difficult to clean. Take extra care to clean your teeth as a buildup of plaque can leave you vulnerable to a host of other dental issues. A good anti-bacterial mouthwash can complement rigorous brushing by reaching areas your toothbrush might not reach.

What to Expect?

Retainers are foreign objects in the mouth. As such, during the few days or weeks after their installation, it’s normal to notice more saliva in your mouth. This is a normal reaction.

Some people might also find talking to be a little different than it was before getting the retainers. However, removable retainers allow you to have a few “natural moments” when brushing your teeth and eating – a perk that was missing with the braces.

Are Retainers Really Expensive?

Retainers cost between $200- $1000, x-rays and fittings are charged separately. In most cases, insurance will cover retainers if braces precede them. Talk to your insurer and see what the parameters are.

The value gained from having aligned teeth makes it all the more worth it to consider having this treatment. Remember you cannot go through life without talking, laughing, and smiling. These activities should not be cause for anxiety.

Final Word

It’s imperative to wear your retainer precisely as prescribed by your practitioner. The last thing you want is to make some headway with braces, then discover your retainers do not fit because you neglected to wear them over time and your teeth shifted again.

You must also ensure to carry your retainer case at all times. Placing them on tabletops or wrapping them in paper tissues will cause damage over time, and is less hygienic.

If the time has come to take those braces off, make an appointment with a qualified orthodontist so they can start the process. And hey, you are one step away from a perfect smile.


Contact Us Today


What Are Retainers?

201 West Washington Benton, IL 62812
Phone: (618) 438-2815
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